The ASUN has never received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Neither has the Big South. Such is life in a low-to-mid-major conference. If Liberty wants to have a season that is to be remembered by making it to the Big Dance, the Flames will have to win the ASUN conference tournament.
“We’ve played some quality opponents with phenomenal coaches and really, really good players,” McKay said of the Flames’ non-conference schedule. “Hopefully, it will pay dividends when we enter into our inaugural season in the ASUN.”
Despite the program-best 11 wins in the non-conference and a program-defining win at UCLA, a new season is about to begin for the Flames. With each higher seed hosting ASUN conference tournament games and the likelihood that the Flames could be in an epic race with Lipscomb, every single game becomes crucial. It all begins Saturday at Florida Gulf Coast.
The Eagles have been the toast of the league for the past 6 seasons, winning 20 or more games in each of those years, while advancing to the NCAA Tournament three times during that time span. Dunk City made its name during March Madness in 2013 behind current USC head coach Andy Enfield as FGCU advanced to the sweet 16 as a 15 seed.
“What I’ve seen on tape from FGCU, there’s no question they have mid to high-major talent,” McKay said. “They have really talented players. They have struggled record-wise because of some injuries and a really, really difficult non-conference schedule. Not many people have gone in there and won, just look at their track record.”
Behind first-year head coach Michael Fly, who replaced Joe Dooley after he left to take the East Carolina job, the Eagles have struggled. They are just 5-10 this season and are now having to adjust to life without leading scorer Haanif Cheatham. The Marquette transfer saw his FGCU career cut short due to a shoulder injury that requires season-ending surgery. He was leading the team with 13.2 points per game.
With Cheatham out, much of the scoring load will fall to Schadrac Casimir, a graduate transfer from Iona. The 5’10” guard is averaging 11.5 points per game while making 31-of-68 three pointers. He scored over 1,100 points in 106 career games at Iona. 6’7″ junior forward RaySean Scott, Jr. is averaging 9.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
FGCU makes use of the transfer market frequently. In addition to Cheatham and Casimir, the Eagles have 7 other players on their roster that have transferred in from various places including UNLV, Michigan, and USF.
FGCU suffered a 6 game losing streak though much of November and into the early part of December before righting the ship with 3 wins heading towards Christmas. Their last two games were both 20+ point losses at SEC opponents Florida and Mississippi.
“Our goal is to compete for conference championships, that’s always going to be the goal while we’re here,” said McKay. “Whether or not we have the discipline and the togetherness that is required in achieving that remains to be seen.”