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ASUN Preview: FGCU has special talent in Kierstan Bell

With three new teams added to the conference and FGCU still reigning supreme, ASUN is sure to be an exciting conference to watch in 2021-22.

Syndication: The News-Press
Kierstan Bell
Andrew West/The News-Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC

With women’s college basketball right around the corner, it’s time to preview the ASUN Conference. ASUN is an up-and-coming conference with 12 teams coming from primarily the Southeastern part of the United States. So, let’s take a look back at what happened in the ASUN last year, look at the preseason predictions, and look ahead at the games to mark down on your calendars.

Rewind: A look at where ASUN left off

Last season Florida Gulf Coast was dominant. It was able to finish first in the regular season and win the conference tournament. The Eagles were the sole representative of the ASUN at the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past Michigan in the first round. FGCU was the only team from the ASUN in the final Associated Press Media Poll, where they were ranked 24th in the country. Kierstan Bell received conference and national attention, being named ASUN Player and Newcomer of the Year and the Becky Hammond Mid-Major Player of the Year. Jazz Bond of North Florida was named the Defensive Player of the Year and Sakyia White of North Alabama was named Freshman of the Year.

ASUN Team by team analysis

Here’s where each team in the ASUN stands entering the 2021-22 season, in order of the 2020-21 final standings.

1) FGCU Eagles

FGCU is the cream of the crop in the ASUN. The Eagles have made the NCAA tournament seven times in the past ten years and are the reigning ASUN regular season and tournament champs. This year, they will be favored again, with most key players returning for the 2021-22 campaign. Expect Kierstan Bell to have another big year as her star continues to shine bright.

2) Liberty Flames

Last year, Liberty settled for second best, finishing second in the regular season and losing the ASUN final against number one FGCU. There is optimism that this year is the year. Legendary coach Carey Green has created a winning culture at Liberty, but can he find replacements for Emily Little and Ashtyn Baker’s offensive production? Liberty has been a consistent team, and if Maya Berkman can have an All-Conference year, maybe that will be enough for the team to take that next step and make it to the Big Dance.

3) North Florida Ospreys

North Florida is here and ready. They have the ASUN’s Defensive Player of the Year Jazz Bond back and prepared to lead the Ospreys to the top of the conference. Last season was their best year to date, going 11-5 in the conference. Can coach Darrick Gibbs take the team to the next level and make it a legitimate ASUN title contender? We’ll begin to find out in early November.

4. Lipscomb Bisons

Lipscomb is a middle-of-the-pack team in the ASUN. The Bisons finished last year 8-6 in the conference and 12-10 overall. According to both the coaches poll and the media poll, we should expect more of the same from Lipscomb, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The team has exciting additions such as freshman Bella Vinson, a 6-foot-2 combo player, and Maddie Cook, who transferred from Belmont. Lipscomb should be a fun team to watch this year.

5) Stetson Hatters

Stetson had a tough 2020-21 season. They finished in the bottom half of the conference and had a losing record of 7-9 in the conference. COVID did force some game cancellations last year, so, hopefully, coach Lynn Bria and the rest of the Hatters have an entire, healthy season and can get above .500 in the conference.

6) North Alabama Lions

North Alabama is a work in progress. The Lions have some talented guards in Macey Lee and Jade Moore, and they’ll need to see them take leaps if the team wants to rise above the ASUN competition. It finished last season 6-9, so there is plenty of room for improvement.

7) Bellarmine Knights

Bellarmine is hoping to put last year’s 5-9 conference record behind it and start fresh this fall. The Knights will be anchored by the defensive presence of Lauren Deel, who led the team in blocks last year with 15. Bellarmine has a nice balance of seniors (five) and Sophomores (five). Hopefully, it’s a perfect mix of youth and experience leading to more victories in the team’s second season as an ASUN conference member.

8) Kennesaw State Owls

Kennesaw State had a rough 2020-21 season. The Owls ended the season 2-11 in the conference, which was the second-worst record. There is optimism for Kennesaw with first-year coach Octavia Blue at the helm. The coaches poll has them ending the season seventh in the conference, which would be a bump up with all the new additions to ASUN. We’ll have to see if last year’s All-Freshman selection, Stacie Jones can help the team move up the ranks.

9. Jacksonville Dolphins

Jacksonville ended the season last in the ASUN, so there is nowhere to go but up. Technically, the Dolphins can end worse with the new teams joining the conference, but you understand the sentiment. Since they were 1-13 in the conference last year, they will most likely improve. With five freshmen joining the roster, there is a lot that is unknown with the Dolphins, but they should be an interesting, young team to watch.

New Teams

The next three teams just joined the ASUN. Let’s get to know these new members.

Central Arkansas Bears

Last season the Bears struggled against top competition like Baylor and Arkansas but could win games against Pine-Bluff. What does that mean for their first year in ASUN? The media and coaches polls have them in the middle of the pack, so that seems like a safe bet until we see them in action.

Eastern Kentucky Colonels

Eastern Kentucky struggled last year with an 8-12 record, so don’t expect them to come in and dominate this season. Their top scorer Jayla Johnson is returning, so perhaps her senior leadership can help the Colonels snag a few conference wins.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks

Last but certainly not least is Jacksonville State. With an energetic atmosphere and a dynamic coach in Rick Pietri, Jacksonville State is undoubtedly one of the more exciting additions to the ASUN conference. The media poll has the team projected to end the season fourth, which would be a great year, especially for a new team.

Preseason Nods

Player of the Year: Kierstan Bell (FGCU)

All-ASUN Team

Kierstan Bell, FGCU, Jr., G

Lucy Ibeh, Central Arkansas, Jr., F

Tishara Morehouse, FGCU, Sr., G

Marissa Mackins, North Florida, Sr., G

Amani Johnson, Kennesaw State, Sr.,G

Alexis Poole, Kennesaw State, Sr., G

Mya Berkman, Liberty, Jr., C

Jaida Bond, North Florida, Jr., G

Jazz Bond, North Florida, Sr., F

Yazz Wazeerud-Din, Stetson, Sr., G

Key ASUN Dates

Jan. 5: ASUN season starts (North Alabama vs. Lipscomb)

Must-see ASUN Matchups

Jan. 15: FGCU vs. Liberty. Projected number one versus Projected number two? Yeah, that’s a must-watch game and should be a fierce competition early in the season.

Feb. 3: North Florida vs. Jacksonville State. I’m curious to see how good Jacksonville State can be in its first ASUN season. A matchup against last year’s third-best team will certainly be a test and a good indicator of how much of a threat it can be this year.

February 26, North Florida vs. Stetson. On the final day of conference play, we will be in for a real treat. Will North Florida be fighting for the title? Will Stetson be playing for tournament seeding? I expect this to be a competitive, exciting end to the ASUN regular season, and I don’t expect to miss it, nor should you.