Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
2012-2013 Overall Rank: #82
Conference Rank: #1 Sun Belt
Middle Tennessee Team Page
Middle Tennessee only lost five games heading into the 2011-2012 postseason and one of those was the season ending game that did not really matter since the Blue Raiders already wrapped up a regular season conference title. But that season ending loss at Western Kentucky led to a more shocking loss in their Sun Belt conference tournament opener against lowly Arkansas State. After that disappointment, this was a team that could have folded up pretty quickly in the NIT, but Coach Kermit Davis had his players ready to go. They responded by beating Marshall and Tennessee before falling to Minnesota in the quarterfinals. With four starters returning and a young team growing up, the Blue Raiders will be ready to finish strong in 2012-2013. Yet, we have been down this road before.
2011-12 Record: 27-7, 14-2
2011-12 Postseason: NIT
Coach: Kermit Davis
Coach Record: 180-133 at Middle Tennessee, 251-183 overall
However, there will be a big gap in the paint where LaRon Dendy once roamed. The big man led the Blue Raiders with 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest during his senior season. The Iowa State transfer was tough on both ends of the floor and his shooting ability could stretch out the defense and create space for the rest of the team. Coach Davis has options, but nobody is going to replace everything Dendy did for this team last season. Little used guards Jimmy Oden and Julian Emdonson are the only other losses.
Coach Davis hit the junior college ranks to add even more experience and quality to his squad. This is not a team that really needed to hit the junior college ranks to fill immediate needs, but the result is a very deep roster full of upperclassmen. Neiko Hunter has the ability to help replace Dendy in some areas. He can shoot and get up and down the floor very well for a 6-7, 215 pounder. His ability to stretch out the defense and knock down three-pointers will give this team an option to play bigger with Hunter at the three spot. That would also help out immensely in the rebounding department, but Hunter’s minutes will more likely be needed as a backup in the frontcourt. Trantell Knight and Gavin Gibson will have to battle it out with a slew of returning talent on the perimeter, but a team does not pick up junior college transfers to just put them on the bench. Knight and Gibson will compete for major playing time and even that increased level of competition for playing time will toughen up this team a bit. But we thought we knew who was going to be the leaders of this team last year, but many of them were beaten out by junior college transfers.
Who to Watch:
Marcos Knight was one of those players who came in and immediately turned into a leader on the floor. The 6-2 senior was second on the team with 11.8 points per game and also added 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 5.2 rebounds. Knight is a great athlete who can do a lot of everything. If he can find a consistent touch to his outside shot, Knight will be impossible to stop. Raymond Cintron was another one of those junior college transfers who took the spotlight away from some of the returning players. Cintron is almost entirely an outside shooter, but he does it very well. He lacks the size and strength to effectively attack the basket, but as long as he keeps shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, nobody will complain. Players like Jason Jones and James Gallman saw their minutes decrease drastically with the arrival of thriving transfers like Knight and Cintron. However, those two are still around and have proven to be capable scorers. The new wave of junior college talent could drop them back even further down the bench though. If that is the case, Coach Davis has a ton of talent on his roster. Kerry Hammonds saw some playing time last season mostly due to his 6-5 frame. He is a big, tough wing who started 11 games last year and could work his way into the starting lineup again if the Blue Raiders want Cintron to be a shooter off of the bench. Bruce Massey, yet another juco transfer who made his debut in the royal blue last season and took over a starting job, is back to run the point. Massey is not a scorer, but he is a great ball handler, distributor and defender. With all of the other scoring options, that is all Massey needs to be.
JT Sulton will be asked to do a little more scoring in the paint now that Dendy is gone. Last year the 6-8 senior played second fiddle to Dendy, but he is more than capable of being a strong interior scorer. He is an efficient scorer in the paint and averaged 10.3 points and 5.2 rebounds a year ago. Those numbers should get a healthy boost as Sulton emerges as the Blue Raiders main interior scorer and rebounder. Sulton is not the all-around player that Dendy was, but he can be the interior scorer and top rebounder for this group. Sulton is also not a shot blocker like Dendy, but Shawn Jones is. Jones spent last season giving Dendy and Sulton breaks off of the bench, but he should be ready to step into a starting role. And that will be the key for this team, getting consistent production out of the frontcourt. Sulton can do the job, but Jones and Hunter better be ready to step up. If they do, this is a team that can win the Sun Belt again. But then they have to get the job done in the conference tournament.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Bruce Massey, Senior, Guard, 6.1 points per game
Raymond Cintron, Senior, Guard, 8.4 points per game
Marcos Knight, Senior, Guard, 11.8 points per game
JT Sulton, Senior, Forward, 10.3 points per game
Shawn Jones, Junior, Forward, 7.3 points per game