Since joining the Atlantic Sun conference before the 2018-19 season, it has been Liberty's league. The Flames are five for five in winning the regular-season title and tournament titles in the nearly three-season span.
Nothing happened during the regular season this year to suggest that it would change.
Ritchie McKay looks to lead Liberty to another title in less than a week. Their biggest challenge is a team competing in their first season as a Division I program. Bellarmine began the transition to become a Div. I basketball school this season - a four-year process - and has had quite the year in the A-Sun.
The team rocketed to a 10-3 conference record to nab the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. And while they could take the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship, they are ineligible to compete in the NCAA Tournament as reclassification rules prevent the Knights from competing in the NCAA Tournament.
There are some other threats, and the tournament is more open than years past, but at least the Flames have shown they can have an impact in the NCAA Tournament. In 2019, the 12-seeded Liberty Flames knocked off No. 5 seed Mississippi State.
ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT 2021 INFORMATION:
When is the 2021 Atlantic Sun Tournament?
The Atlantic Sun Tournament will be held on March 4, 5 and 7. The Atlantic Sun Championship Game is on Sunday, March 7.
Where is the 2021 Atlantic Sun Tournament?
For the first time in eight years, the 2021 Atlantic Sun Tournament will be held at a single-site in Jacksonville, Fla. The event is scheduled to be played at Swisher Gymnasium and UNF Arena in Jacksonville, on the campuses of Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida.
How to watch the 2021 Atlantic Sun Tournament?
The Quarterfinals and Semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Tournament will be broadcast on ESPN+. ESPN will broadcast the Atlantic Sun Championship Game.
Who is the defending 2020 Atlantic Sun Champion?
Last season the Liberty Flames won their second straight A-Sun championship in as many seasons. Liberty did not get to partake in the NCAA Tournament due to its cancelation from the coronavirus.
2021 ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT BRACKET:
Atlantic Sun Tournament Quarterfinals (3/4, Times ET)
- No. 1 Liberty d. No. 8 Kennesaw State 69-59
- No. 5 North Alabama d. No. 4 North Florida 68-60
- No. 7 Stetson d. No. 2 Bellarmine 73-70
- No. 6 Florida Gulf Coast d. No. 3 Lipscomb 72-60
Atlantic Sun Tournament Semifinals (3/5, Times ET)
- No. 1 Liberty d. No. 7 Stetson 77-64
- No. 5 North Alabama d. No. 6 Florida Gulf Coast 96-81
Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship (3/7, Time ET)
- No. 1 Liberty vs. No. 5 North Alabama, 2:00 pm (ESPN)
ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT 2021 PREVIEW:
Only once since the 2010 A-Sun Tournament has the champion come from someone not seeded on the No. 1 or No. 2 lines. And that season was an anomaly because it was Dunk City and Florida Gulf Coast that shocked everyone in college basketball.
So, again, Liberty should be favored to win it all. A different factor this year is that the top seeds don't get to host. Because of COVID-19, the whole tournament is at a single-site. Perhaps the Florida-based teams get a slight advantage.
A team as experienced as Liberty shouldn't be affected much by that change.
There's the phrase that "defense travels" and the Flames have the best defense in the league, one of the best in the country. In their season finale against Bellarmine, they allowed an opponent to reach 70 points for the first time since Jan. 1. And that was in a 16-point blowout.
Their 58.9 points allowed per game is third-best in Div. 1, and no A-Sun teams are built to have a defense that could stunt the Flames' offense.
Florida Gulf Coast's style could cause some trouble. They play aggressive defense offensively aren't going to shoot you out of the gym. Three of their players score 11 points per game with their balanced offense and will give everyone a tough out.
Already mentioned, Bellarmine has an offense that may be just as good at Liberty. They could really make things interesting by winning the tournament and the loser of the championship game getting the automatic bid. Pedro Bradshaw has been a huge part of their success as a do-it-all guard.
Lipscomb is also another team that you can't count out in March as of late. But, even though Liberty lost twice to conference opponents in the regular season, it's their tournament to win.
PICK: No. 1 Liberty