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August 14, 2008


Head coach: Kermit Davis.
Last season: 17-15 overall, 11-7 in Sun Belt.
Postseason: None.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

Few teams in any conference will have a more experienced or deeper set of guards. Three senior starters return for the Blue Raiders, and at least three newcomers are expected to work their way into the rotation.

Desmond Yates was a first team All-Sun Belt selection last season.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Kevin Kanaskie, 6-2/Sr.
11.7 ppg, 3.3 apg
G Nigel Johnson, 6-2/Sr.
7.3 ppg, 3.4 apg
G Demetrius Green, 6-4/Sr.
12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F Desmond Yates, 6-6/Jr.
16.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 57.5 FG%
F Theryn Hudson, 6-10/Sr.
9.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
TOP RESERVES
F Calvin O'Neil, 6-4/Jr.
Injured last season
G Eric Allen, 6-5/Jr.
Junior college transfer
F Dino Hair, 6-9/Jr.
3.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg
G Antwaun Boyd, 6-2/R-Fr.
Redshirted last season

The influx of guards should help keep seniors Kevin Kanaskie and Nigel Johnson fresher late in the season. Kanaskie has averaged more than 35 minutes per game in each of the past two seasons. A coach's son (his father, Kurt, is a former coach at Drake and now is an assistant at Penn State), he is one of the top outside shooters in the Sun Belt. The speedy Johnson, who is most dangerous in the open court, provides a good contrast. He can score baskets in a hurry, but must become more consistent and improve his decision-making for the Blue Raiders to reach their full potential.

Senior wing Demetrius Green was added from the junior college ranks last season and immediately provided a scoring punch and help on the glass. He finished second on the team in scoring and rebounding.

The coaching staff is particularly high on junior college transfer Eric Allen and redshirt freshman Antwaun Boyd. Allen is a terrific outside shooter with good range. Boyd, a three-star recruit from the 2007 class, didn't qualify academically until December last season and the coaches chose to redshirt him.

FRONTCOURT

One of the bigger surprises in the Sun Belt Conference last season was the play of junior Desmond "Boogie" Yates, a first-team all-league pick. Yates emerged as the go-to guy on offense, raising his scoring average from 10.9 to 16.0 points per game.

An inside-outside scorer, Yates provides a difficult matchup for most defenders. But don't expect another big jump in his scoring. With the return of so many veterans and some major additions, the Blue Raiders plan to have a more balanced attack.

Senior Theryn Hudson (6-10, 250) is the biggest player on the roster and gives the undersized Blue Raiders a legitimate center. Hudson has made small improvements each season, but has yet to play to his full potential. In particular, the Blue Raiders need him to be better on the glass.

The return of small forward Calvin O'Neil should provide a boost. O'Neil, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener last season, averaged 6.6 points as a starter in 2006-07.

Two other big men junior Dino Hair and junior college transfer Josh Jones will be counted to provide interior defense and rebounding.

OFFENSE

Davis sold incoming recruits on a faster, more up-tempo style. He wants to take advantage of Johnson's speed and the number of players who can score in transition.

In halfcourt sets, the Blue Raiders mostly run motion where no one player is the focus. Numerous screens will be set to free up Kanaskie and Allen for open looks.

DEFENSE

The Blue Raiders played more zone last season than in any of the previous five years of the Davis era, in large part because of injuries.

The perfect storm of sorts is setting up for MTSU in the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders return every key player - including Yates, a candidate for league player-of-the-year honors. South Alabama and perennial power Western Kentucky which both landed NCAA bids this past season have giant holes to fill. The Jaguars are losing their leading scorer and leading assist man, and the Hilltoppers are losing their top two scorers (including first-round pick Courtney Lee) and their coach. The Blue Raiders, who upset South Alabama twice last season, including in the Sun Belt Tournament semifinals in Mobile, Ala., should be the league favorite. If they do get knocked off in the league tourney which will be in Hot Springs, Ark. an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament will be possible thanks to a tough non-conference schedule that will include Tennessee and likely another high-major opponent.
With a rotation that could go 10 deep, they will utilize much more man-to-man, which Davis prefers. They also may mix in some presses and full-court pressure in an effort to generate more transition baskets.

SHOES TO FILL

None. The Blue Raiders did not lose a significant contributor.

MUST STEP UP

The Blue Raiders have considerable firepower on the perimeter. What they need is a legitimate inside presence. Hudson is the prime candidate. He has good size and is entering his fourth year in the program.

The key is eliminating unnecessary fouls. He spent much of last season in foul trouble, committing at least four fouls in 19 of 29 games and fouling out five times. Hudson averaged a foul every seven minutes.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Allen shot 44 percent from beyond the arc at Marion (Ala.) Military Institute last season. That number is impressive at any level. He'll give the Blue Raiders a second shooter for defenses to worry about and upgrade what was a rather mediocre offense last season.

Andrew Skwara is a national basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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