Tiny Dancers: North Florida wins the Atlantic Sun Tournament

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Matt Driscoll has led North Florida to its first A-Sun regular season and tournament titles. (USATSI)

Court storming does not happen often at the conclusion of conference tournaments, but when the final horn sounded in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Tournament there was no chance security could keep the North Florida fans in their seats in their own building.

North Florida, a program that started in NAIA and moved from Division II to Division I just a decade ago, will be making its first NCAA tournament appearance in program history after beating South Carolina Upstate 63-57 in the Atlantic Sun final. The win came on their home floor in Jacksonville in front of a rowdy and biased group of fans hoping to capitalize on the program’s best season (and first Atlantic Sun regular season title) with a spot in the Big Dance.

The game itself was fantastic, with USC Upstate battling back from a halftime deficit and taking the lead by the under-8 TV timeout. Fans were nervous, as USC Upstate had just ended Florida Gulf Coasts’s tournament hopes in the semifinals, but the UNF pulled away in the final minutes. Damarcus Daniels was dominant around the rim, grabbing offensive rebounds and pacing the Ospreys with a career-high 22 points off the bench with six boards and a block. The starting backcourt of Dallas Moore and Jalen Nesbitt also finished in double figures, combining for 29 points.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 23-11 overall, 12-2 in the Atlantic Sun
  • Most recent tournament appearance: First NCAA tournament appearance.
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 16 seed
  • RPI: 164
  • KenPom ranking: 127
  • Sagarin ranking: 143
  • Best wins: at Purdue, season sweep of Florida Gulf Coast
  • Worst losses: at Austin Peay, swept by Tennessee Tech
  • Notable stat: 53.9%. Matt Driscoll has the Ospreys ranking in the Top 100 of several major offensive categories, with an effective field goal percentage (53.9) that is No. 27 in the country, according to KenPom.com.
  • Closing quip: Jerry Palm has North Florida headed to Dayton in one of the 16-seed play-in games. For a program that just made the jump to the Atlantic Sun from Division II a decade ago, I think there some excitement about the realistic opportunity to get an NCAA tournament win, even if it comes in a play-in game scenario. The Ospreys are gifted on offense and have the Purdue win on their resume but probably aren’t going to be knocking off any of the 1-seeds in the first round. Still, following up the school’s best regular season with an NCAA tournament bid is huge for Driscoll’s program and the rise of the Ospreys program is going to be one of the fun stories for casual college basketball fans to follow in the next week.

>> Want more college hoops? Top 25 (and one) | Bracketology

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