#44 Middle Tennessee Women's Basketball Preview

Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders

Overall Rank: #44
Conference Rank: #1 Sun Belt
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Middle Tennessee’s stellar 2010-2011 season was scarred by the death of Tina Stewart. A fellow student was indicted for her murder and left the Lady Raiders reeling following the March 2nd incident. Middle Tennessee had two games after that, losing in their first game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and then to Georgia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The young team had other things than basketball on their minds and Coach Rick Insell just hopes his team can grow from the tragedy as people and as players.

2010-11: 23-8, 14-2
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Rick Insell (148-47 at Middle Tennessee, 148-47 overall)

Who’s Out:
The off-court distractions will never go away for this group. The death of Tina Stewart, who started 14 games last season, will always be there. But distractions on the floor could pull this team together. The only departure is that of sharp shooter Anne Marie Lanning. Lanning was second on the team in scoring and assists with 13.5 and 4.4, respectively. Her absence leaves a hole at the guard position that will need to be filled by some less experienced players.

Who’s In:
Shanice Cason will be in the mix to replace the production of Lanning. The 5-6 freshman is a quality ball handler who can do some scoring as well. Cason will not be able to match the shooting of Lanning, but she can be a secondary ball handler on the floor who can also play tough defense. The only other newcomer is redshirt freshman center Stephanie Myers. At 6-5, Myers is the tallest player to ever suit up for the Lady Raiders. Her redshirt year was needed to develop her skills and she could turn into a fine post player on both ends of the floor sooner rather than later.

Who to Watch:
The frontcourt is in great hands led by Ebony Rowe. The 6-1 sophomore had a superb freshman campaign, leading the team with 17.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. She is an extremely efficient scorer, hitting 58.4 percent of his shots from the field. Rowe is a dominating force on the offensive glass and a lot of her easy buckets come off of offensive rebounds. With the offense running through Rowe, it opens up the rest of the floor. Wing Icelyn Elie and center Keke Stewart are two of the beneficiaries of Rowe’s dominance in the paint. Elie had a breakout sophomore campaign after barely playing as a freshman. Elie is not much of a shooter, but she can score in bunches around the basket and beat opponents off the dribble. After averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds last year, Elie should be in for a big year. Keke Stewart was just a part-time starter as a freshman, but she proved to be a capable interior scorer.

Final Projection:
Point guard Kortni Jones will be the leader on and off the floor for this group. The 5-9 junior is one of the more experienced players on the roster and did a superb job orchestrating the offense last season. Jones is a decent shooter who can keep the opposition honest with her outside shot, but she does not have to do a lot of scoring on this team. Jones needs to keep the offense moving smoothly, find her open teammates and spearhead the defensive effort. Jones may have to take on a bigger scoring load if the backcourt fails to find a new shooter. However, the likely candidate to fill that spot is Jordyn Luffman. At 6-1, Luffman is better suited to play the three spot, but she is athletic enough to play the two against most opposing players and this will be a pretty tall team that has five players who can hit the glass. Luffman was just a freshman last season, but she started 19 games and connected on 34.9 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. She has the capability of shooting closer to 40 percent from long range and, if she can do that, this team will be back in the NCAA Tournament and looking to win a game.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Kortni Jones, Junior, Guard, 8.5 points per game
Jordyn Luffman, Sophomore, Guard, 5.3 points per game
Icelyn Elie, Junior, Forward, 10.9 points per game
Ebony Rowe, Sophomore, Forward, 17.1 points per game
Keke Stewart, Sophomore, Center, 6.7 points per game