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Blue Raiders picked third in SBC East

Middle Tennessee expected to contend in tight league race

October 23, 2006 · MT Media Relations
LAFAYETTE, La. - Men's basketball coaches in the Sun Belt Conference expect Middle Tennessee to be in the middle of the East Division chase again in 2006-07, exactly in the middle.

Middle Tennessee is projected third of the six teams in the realigned East Division in a preseason vote of the league's 13 coaches, which was released as the SBC Media Days tipped off here Monday. The event is being held at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, La., host of the 2007 SBC Tournament.

Among the many topics expected to be discussed during this two-day event are the realignment of divisions brought on by the addition of Florida Atlantic and Louisiana-Monroe as full-time members this season, as well as a change in the tournament format.

South Alabama and Troy have been shifted to the East, and Florida Atlantic was placed in the East, while UALR and Arkansas State were moved into the West, where Louisiana-Monroe was placed.

The Blue Raiders, which finished second behind Western Kentucky in the East last season, received 55 points. Perennial power Western Kentucky received nine first-place votes and 73 points to lead the pack in the East, while defending champion South Alabama is third with two first-place votes and 60 points.

Troy (41 points), Florida International (23), and newcomer Florida Atlantic (21), which received one first-place vote, were picked fourth through sixth, respectively.

"I think these preseason polls are what they are, a starting point," said Middle Tennessee fifth-year coach Kermit Davis. "Four or five points separate different spots. It's nice to get together and throw them out there for what it is. I'm looking forward to the race this year and expect it to be very competitive."

Coaches expect a tight race in the West where three teams are separated by three points at the top of the poll. UALR was picked first with 73 points and three first-place votes, three points ahead of New Orleans and North Texas, which tied for second. New Orleans received five first-place votes and North Texas had four. Arkansas State and Denver, which received one first-place vote, tied for fourth with 51 points, followed by Louisiana-Lafayette (28), and Louisiana-Monroe (21).

While you could make an argument as to which division is most difficult it's hard to dispute where the power should lie in 2006-07. The East Division features tradition-rich Western Kentucky, defending champion South Alabama, and one of the league's three winningest programs during the last four years in Middle Tennessee, that's pretty strong. Troy could be the surprise team in the league, while Florida International always is a tough out. Florida Atlantic is the unknown.

"In any league the strength of a division is going to go in cycles but I do believe the strength of the league is on our side," Davis said. "There are still very good teams on the other side but when you put Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Middle Tennessee, Troy, Florida International, and Florida Atlantic on one side, that's real difficult. Of course, there are very good teams in the West, too."

Middle Tennessee returns three starters from last year's 16-12 squad, including preseason All-SBC selection Adam Vogelsberg, who led the squad in scoring at 12.6 points per game game in 2005-06. Senior Kyle Young is a three-year starter entering his farewell season, while Tim Blue made significant strides during his first year as a Blue Raider. Sophomores Theryn Hudson, Kevin Kanaskie, and Calvin O'Neil also gained significant experience as rookies and are projected impact players in 2006-07.

The Blue Raiders also will rely on a talented group of newcomers that includes four players who took a redshirt year in 2005-06 - Darren Avery, Dino Hair, and Desmond Yates. Sophomore Nigel Johnson, a transfer from Tallahassee Community College, and freshmen Jay Ivey and Jon Hopson round out the roster.

Middle Tennessee will face York University in exhibition action at Murphy Center, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m.

SBC Men's Basketball
Preseason Coaches Poll
First-place votes in parenthesis
East Division

1 Western Kentucky (9) 73
2 South Alabama (2) 60
3 Middle Tennessee 55
4 Troy 41
5 Florida International 23
6 Florida Atlantic (1) 21

West Division
1 UALR (3) 73
T2 New Orleans (5) 70
T2 North Texas (4) 70
T4 Arkansas State 51
T4 Denver (1) 51
6 Louisiana-Lafayette 28
7 Louisiana-Monroe 21

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