There is a lot of rain is in the forecast for the Atlantic Sun Conference this season. Particularly in usually-sunny Fort Myers, Florida.
It’s all because of Florida Gulf Coast, who is going to be #RainingThrees all year. The showers of long-distance swishes coming from the Eagles should make for an exciting season in the ASUN.
Already, FGCU has used the long ball to supercharge their offense and run up the score on their opponents. In their opening game of the 2019-20 season, the Eagles absolutely smoked the Florida International Panthers, winning the second quarter 41-2 on the way to a 100-54 victory. In their second game, they nearly broke the century mark again, defeating Webber International 99-48.
So, will FGCU dominate the ASUN this season? Will they not only earn their fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid, but also make a Cinderella run? Will any ASUN squads trouble the Eagles?
Honors for the Eagles
Coaches and media unanimously voted FGCU as favorites to capture back-to-back regular season titles and a third consecutive conference tournament championship. They also believe senior guard and straight-up scorer Nasrin Ulel will repeat as Player of the Year. Similarly, senior forward and rebounding machine Tytionia Adderly is expected to claim the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year crown again. Redshirt senior guard Keri Jewett-Giles, the 2019 ASUN Championship MVP and Fort Myers native who did not decide until late summer to return for this final season, was also named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
#ASUNWBB LOADING...⏳@FGCU_WBB has won 3️⃣ straight @ASUNWBB Championship titles while claiming the Regular Season crown for the 2️⃣nd consecutive year. ️ ❗️— #ASUNBuilt (@ASUNSports) November 1, 2019
| https://t.co/EpVRlCUZxd#ASUNBuilt | #ASUNWBB | #WingsUp pic.twitter.com/QDPxoZVJP7
Such returning talent makes FGCU’s predicted success unsurprising.
However, emerging talents that fit FGCU head coach Karl Smesko’s up-tempo pace-and-space system suggests FGCU can exceed these conference achievements and become one of the nation’s most fun, and threatening, teams.
#RainingThrees in South Florida
As their hashtag unabashedly announces, FGCU is all about #RainingThrees. Through two games, the Eagles are first in the nation in 3-pointers attempted, firing away 90 shots from deep. They have sunk 33 of these treys, which is good for 16.5 per game and an overall mark of 36.7 percent.
More concerning for opponents: It was not the Eagles’ preseason honorees doing this damage. Against Weber International, redshirt senior guard Davion Wingate used a 3-5 performance from three to propel herself to a game-high 23 points. Even more impressive, redshirt junior Anja Marinkovic, a transfer from Detroit Mercy in her first season of eligibility for FGCU, went 4-5 from behind the arc, including converting a ridiculous four-point play on her way to 20 points.
We've got a 20 burger from Anja Marinkovic following this 4-point play!— FGCU W. Basketball (@FGCU_WBB) November 8, 2019
FGCU leads 98-46. 49 seconds left#RainingThrees pic.twitter.com/iQUq4Dpyr3
Last season, Wingate shot an excellent 43.3 percent from distance, albeit on only two-and-a-half attempts per game. Wingate increasing her attempt rate, in combination with the addition of the sharpshooting Marinkovic, will provide more space for Ulel and Jewett-Giles to score from their favored spots on the floor.
In FGCU’s hard-fought loss to Miami in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Jewett-Giles poured in a game-high 24 points. Ulel scored more than 20 points seven times last season. Those two also can contribute to the rain in Fort Myers. Ulel made five or more 3-pointers five times last season, while Jewett-Giles had three or more 3-pointers seven times.
How high can the Eagles soar?
Needless to say, the Eagles are equipped to put up big scoring numbers, even as their quality of opponent improves.
On Sunday, FGCU will encounter a tough test when they travel to Princeton to take on the Tigers and Bella Alarie. But first, they should use their offensive firepower to vanquish another intrastate foe, as the Eagles will meet the Central Florida Knights on Wednesday evening.
Other intriguing non-conference games for FGCU include a Thanksgiving contest against Notre Dame as part of the Cancún Challenge and a Dec. 29 home date with Duke.
It also is likely that any team with Final Four aspirations, including their fellow South Floridians, will want to avoid an NCAA Tournament matchup with the Eagles. Before Miami held off FGCU, 69-62, in last spring’s 4-seed and 13-seed first-round meeting, the Hurricanes escaped 62-60 in the first-round of 2017 NCAA Tournament, when they were again the 4-seed and the Eagles the 13-seed.
Who might knock off FGCU?
Maybe a return trip to the tourney for FGCU should not be so foreordained.
Both the coaches and media selected Liberty University to finish second in the standings. After defeating Norfolk State 67-48 in their first game of the season, the Flames dropped their home opener to a spunky East Tennessee State team, 63-62. Monday night, they were beaten rather handedly by Chattanooga, 71-54.
Thus far, North Alabama, predicted to finish third, appears poised to present the toughest test to FGCU. The Lions dropped 128 points on a severely overmatched Virginia-Lynchburg team, claiming a 102-point victory. They followed up this demolition with a strong win over Mississippi Valley State, 86-60.
Senior guard Ivy Wallen, a preseason All-Conference Team nominee, has turned in a pair of double-doubles, averaging 17 points and 11 assists. UNA’s other All-Conference candidate, senior forward Brittany Panetti, also has gotten buckets in the early going, averaging 18 points on an absurd field goal percentage of 93.3 percent.
.@UNAHOOPS opens the night with a 16-0 run‼️ ️— #ASUNWBB (@ASUNWBB) November 10, 2019
| https://t.co/4YJM4lNiG9#ASUNWBB | #RoarLions pic.twitter.com/VL136NnG9q
Expect FGCU and UNA to engage in fast-paced, high-scoring affairs when they meet on Jan. 18 and Feb. 29, 2020.
Thanks to junior forward Day’Neshia Banks, Stetson may also make some noise in conference action. A mid-season transfer last year, Banks, the 2018-19 ASUN Newcomer of the Year, tallied nearly 15 points and more than six rebounds for the Hatters. In Stetson’s opening contest, the preseason All-Conference Team pick filled up the box score, registering 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks as the Hatters easily bested Palm Beach Atlantic 77-46.
2Q | Day'Neshia Banks hits the straight away 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer. #GoHatters pic.twitter.com/SXzvVaHYQo— StetsonWBB (@StetsonWBB) November 5, 2019
Stetson will also test their mettle this season with a rather tough non-conference slate. First, on Wednesday, they will challenge No. 13 Kentucky and Rhyne Howard in Lexington. Other non-conference games of note include matchups with a new-look Tennessee team in Knoxville on Nov. 19 and the always-competitive Penn in Philadelphia on Dec. 7. They also will host Bethune-Cookman during their pre-Christmas Hatter Classic.