Each of the past five seasons in the Atlantic Sun, the Liberty Flames claimed at least a share of the regular season conference crown, and with them out of the fold, it provides opportunity for the North Alabama Lions and Bellarmine Knights to rise up, who meet on North Alabama’s home floor on Thursday.
Bellarmine Knights vs. North Alabama Lions (-4.5, 146.5)
While the Lions are just 6-9 straight up, the team has perhaps the best result of any team in the conference, going on the road to Kansas State and narrowly losing 75-74 in overtime at the start of December.
Health also was not the friend of North Alabama to begin the season with three of their top six players in points per game missing multiple games this season, with all three being now healthy and available on Thursday.
Despite the injuries, North Alabama has been a pretty efficient offense at home, ranking 103rd in fewest turnovers per possession at home and 168th in points per possession at home, averaging 12.5 more points per 100 possessions at home than in a road or neutral court setting.
The North Alabama offense also should benefit from facing a Bellarmine defense that ranks 349th out of 362 Division I teams in points allowed on a per possession basis with Bellarmine’s biggest weakness being in the post.
Division I opponents are shooting 56.2% on 2-point attempts against Bellarmine, which ranks 339th in the nation while their overall rebound rate is 336th.
The lack of rebounding has also manifest itself on the offensive end for Bellarmine with the team grabbing an offensive rebound on just 19.2% of their missed shots, which ranks 349th in the country.
The inability of the Knights to compete in the paint has also led to their biggest strength being neutralized, which is their free throw shooting. Bellarmine is second in America in free throw shooting percentage at 81.9%, but their ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts is dead last in the country, attempting just 19.7 free throws for every 100 field goals they attempt.
With Bellarmine committing 13.2 turnovers per game on the road compared to 7.5 per game at home and the team having allowed at least 81 points in five straight games, North Alabama will snap their four game losing streak on Thursday.
The Play: North Alabama -4.5