2021 Atlantic Sun tournament preview: Liberty looks for three-peat, Bellarmine looks for fairytale ending to storybook season
Photo: Bellarmine athletics website

The Atlantic Sun tournament begins tonight with a familiar name at the top of the standings: Liberty. The Flames are once again the team to beat, but the other storyline is Bellarmine as the Knights finished second in the standings, but are ineligible for postseason play due to transitioning to Division I.

Tournament schedule

For the first time in eight years, a single site will be used to host all of the games as Jacksonville will employ two arenas for the quarterfinals: Swisher Gymnasium and UNF Arena. A single arena for the semifinals and finals. teams will be re-seeded after every round.

Quarterfinals

March 4

All games on ESPN+

#8 Kennesaw State vs #1 Liberty, 2PM

#5 North Alabama vs #4 North Florida, 2PM

#6 Florida Gulf Coast vs #3 Lipscomb, 7PM

#7 Stetson vs #2 Bellarmine, 7PM

Semifinals

March 6

Both games on ESPN+

Semifinal #1: Lowest remaining seed vs highest remaining seed, 2PM

Semifinal #2: Second-lowest remaining seed vs second-highest remaining seed, 7PM

Final

March 7

at North Florida, 2PM, ESPN

The favorite

Since joining the Atlantic Sun, Liberty is 38-7 in league play and they are once again a well-balanced team, ranking third in the nation in points per game allowed at 58.9 and lead the conference in points per game scored with 74.9.

McGhee is the leader of Liberty/Photo: Liberty athletics website
McGhee is the leader of Liberty/Photo: Liberty athletics website

The Flames have won nine games in a row and 12 of 13 and have two players remaining from their most recent NCAA Tournament team in 2019 in Darius McGhee, the likely Player of the Year in the A-Sun and Elijah Cuffee.

The challengers

Bellarmine lost the regular-season league title in their finale against Liberty, but are more than capable of winning the tournament. Their balanced offense is led by guard Pedro Bradshaw, who averages 15.6 points per game, one of four Knights in double figures.

Lipscomb is 3-1 vs Liberty and Bellarmine and have a big man in Ahsan Asadullah who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots. JUCO transfer Romaeo Ferguson (13.6 ppg) is a nice compliment to Asadullah on the perimeter.

Asdullah is a dominant force for Lipscomb/Photo: Lipscomb athletics website
Asdullah is a dominant force for Lipscomb/Photo: Lipscomb athletics website

Who will win the tournament?

Liberty is going to the NCAA Tournament whether they win here or not because if Bellarmine should cut down the nets on Sunday, the regular-season champion Flames by rule get the league's automatic bid and the Knights are the only other team capable of winning here.

There's nothing to suggest that Liberty won't put any doubt to rest considering they are the league's best team, have the best player and just beat their biggest challenger by 16 points on their home floor.

However, if Bellarmine should advance to Sunday's final and face the Flames, keeping it close means the Knights, with their balance on offense, can keep Liberty off-balance as they won't know where the biggest threat is coming from.

It would be both a great and weird story if Bellarmine wins considering the circumstances (much the same as Merrimack in the Northeast Conference last year, although they didn't participate in the NEC tournament), but in many ways, they need to win here.

I'll go with the feel-good story here: Bellarmine wins the tournament, gets to hang a championship banner next year in Freedom Hall and Liberty still gets to go to the NCAA Tournament, where they are more than capable of winning a game, much as they did in 2019.

Prediction: Bellarmine def. Liberty

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