Following a challenging non-conference slate, the Stetson men's basketball team (3-8) is set to open Atlantic Sun Conference play this week, heading on the road to play at Mercer (7-6) on Monday, Dec. 31 at 4:30 p.m. and at Kennesaw State (1-11) on Wednesday, Jan. 2 at 5:00 p.m.
While the results haven't been what the Hatters would have wanted at this point in the season, dropping seven of their last eight after beginning the year 2-1, Stetson has had some success that the team can build on moving into conference action.
Early in the 2012-13 campaign the Hatters recorded back-to-back 22-point victories, marking the first time a Stetson squad won two consecutive games by 20 or more points since November of 2000. Moreover, when the NCAA released its first national statistical rankings, the Hatters were leading the country with 20.0 assists per contest. Still using team play and a quick moving offense to its advantage, Stetson leads the A-Sun with 16.5 helpers per contest.
"Our non-conference slate, which included several road games against high caliber teams, should certainly prepare us for conference play," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said. "We're not pleased with the results at this point, but the greatest measure of how good we are will be determined by how we play in the A-Sun."
The Hatters are currently second in the league on offense, scoring 70.0 points per game. Reaching that number on Monday will be a challenge against Mercer, a team that has been holding its opponents to just 54.8 points per tilt. The Bears enter conference play with a 7-6 record and are forcing opponents to shoot under 40 percent from the floor and under 30 percent from beyond the arc. Winners of the CIT postseason tournament a year ago, Mercer has wins over Florida State and Alabama in the early part of 2012-13.
"We have what may be the toughest A-Sun game we'll play all year when we travel to Macon for our conference opener against Mercer," Alexander said. "It's been well documented what they accomplished last season, and their recent performances have strongly resembled that impressive run. It will take a great effort and some strong performances for us to be in position to win. Mercer's depth and experience allows them to play extremely hard and with a lot of confidence. Teams that do that are hard to beat."
Stetson will follow up the game at Mercer with a trip to Kennesaw State on Wednesday. The Owls have had less success over the past few years. KSU was just 3-28 a year ago, finishing 0-18 in A-Sun action. This season the Owls have opened 1-11 with their one victory coming in overtime against South Carolina State. Kennesaw State is led by three-time All-Atlantic Sun honoree Markeith Cummings, who is second in the league with 17.3 points per game.
"Kennesaw's status strongly resembles our own," Alexander said. "Both programs are in the second year of a coaching transition and we both wish we had more wins on the ledger, which would better reflect the hard work that goes into building a winning program. For us it's a chance to get a road win in conference play and that needs to be our expectation. I anticipate it being a game where the team that wants to win the most will. It's always important to keep Cummings in check, but they are not a one man team. I probably have as much respect for Anderson as any player in the league because he does his job and has impressive numbers every time the ball is tipped."
The Hatters begin Atlantic Sun Conference play with the goal of reaching the league tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Stetson will look to improve on last year's 6-12 mark that left the squad just out of the eight-team field.
Both games this week will be streamed live and for free on ASun.TV and HatterVision courtesy of Mercer and Kennesaw State. Stetson fans can also listen to both games on the radio at WSBB 1230 AM in New Smyrna, 1490 AM in DeLand, and online at www.MyAM1230.com. Live Stats (MU, KSU), the @StetsonMBB Twitter feed, and Hat-Alerts are also available for in-game updates.