Coming into this season, the Blue Raiders are wanting more Sun Belt Conference success, including their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1989. The team opens the 2012-13 season Monday, Nov. 5, with an exhibition game against Auburn-Montgomery.
The Blue Raiders open up the preseason with high rankings, including votes in the USA Today coaches top 25 poll. They were the overwhelming pick to win the SBC East Division, and the four returning starters were all named to the Preseason All-SBC team, earlier this week.
Those four players, who are all seniors, comprise guards Bruce Massey, Marcos Knight, and Raymond Cintron and forward JT Sulton.
“We are starting off like a veteran team, but we got some little things to work on,” senior forward Jason Jones said Wednesday in a sit-down interview after a preseason practice session.
Given that there are seven other key players returning this season, head coach Kermit Davis said the Blue Raiders are starting the season with an advantage.
“We have good guys on our team who love to play the game and are fun to be with in the gym everyday,” Davis said. “We’re not perfect, and we know we have a lot of work ahead of us. But last year, I think we were picked fourth and got off to that great start.”
The one player the Blue Raiders will not have on the court this year is SBC Player of the Year center LaRon Dendy at the five position. Davis said Dendy will be missed, but this year’s squad will be using a group of players to fill in at that spot.
Last season, the Blue Raiders felt that the team did well in the regular season, which included wins at Ole Miss and UCLA, but could have played better in the postseason, eluding to the upset by Arkansas State in the SBC Tournament.
Instead, the Blue Raiders were sent to the NIT Tournament for the first time since 1988. During that tournament, the team knocked off Marshall and Tennessee, before losing to Minnesota in the quarterfinals.
Cintron said that loss has served as motivation during preseason practices.
“It was a tough loss,” Cintron said. “We did not want to end a season like that. It helps to be better this year. Hopefully, we will try to reach our goals, and everybody knows what we got to do.”
The non-conference schedule includes away games at Florida in Tampa, Central Florida, Akron, and Belmont. MTSU will host UAB, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt inside Bridgestone Arena.
Davis said he hopes the tough schedule will help the team in the future.
“We tried to do what the committee wants and what your league wants you to do – and that schedule is tough,” Davis said. “But, we have a great home schedule, especially in the non-conference.”
Tip-off against Auburn-Montgomery is at 7 p.m. inside the Murphy Center. The Blue Raiders regular season opens Friday, Nov. 9, against Alabama State.