NEW ORLEANS - WKU and North Texas have been picked to lead the Sun Belt Conference this season, while Hilltopper senior guard A.J. Slaughter headlines the Preseason All-Conference team, as voted on by the league's 13 head coaches. Defending East Division and Tournament Champion WKU received 77 points and 12 first-place votes, emerging as the favorite to repeat in the East and North Texas, for the second-straight season, with its 85 points and nine first place votes is predicted to claim the top spot in the West.
Behind WKU in the East Division, Troy is picked to finish second, with 62 points and one first place vote, while Middle Tennessee closes out the top three with its 53 points. In the West Division, Denver has been tapped to capture second place with one first-place vote and 73 points and Louisiana-Lafayette
WKU Head Coach Ken McDonald returns for his sophomore season on The Hill, along with four starters among five letterwinners from a team that posted a 25-win season in 2008-09, captured the Sun Belt Conference East Division and Tournament Championship, knocked off Big Ten power Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and came within one second of upsetting 10th-ranked Gonzaga and advance to a second-straight NCAA Sweet 16.
North Texas returns all five starters among eight letterwinners from a team that went 20-12 overall and 11-7 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Mean Green made its way to the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament a year ago, before dropping a narrow 77-70 decision to eventual champion WKU.
Slaughter led the Hilltoppers and finished sixth in the Sun Belt Conference in scoring, averaging 16.0 points per game. He was named to the Sun Belt Preseason All-Conference Third Team, awarded Sun Belt All-Conference Second-Team acclaim at season's end and averaged 17.3 ppg during the Sun Belt Tournament in leading WKU to the program's seventh tournament title and a berth in the school's 21st NCAA Tournament. For his efforts, Slaughter was selected as the Sun Belt Tournament Most Valuable Player. In the NCAA Tournament, after scoring 14 in the first round win over Illinois, Slaughter poured in 24 points against 10th-ranked Gonzaga and set career-highs in points (25) and rebounds (9) in the Toppers upset 68-54 of third-ranked Louisville.
Preseason Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Coaches Poll
As voted on by the league's 13 head coaches
(First place votes in parenthesis)
2009 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball
Nate Rohnert, Denver
Desmond Yates, Middle Tennessee
Eric Tramiel, North Texas
Brandon Hazzard, Troy
A.J. Slaughter, WKU
Chris Gradnigo, Louisiana-Lafayette
Josh White, North Texas
Richard Delk, Troy
Sergio Kerusch, WKU
Steffphon Pettigrew, WKU
Donald Boone, Arkansas State
Tony Hooper, Louisiana-Monroe
Malcolm Thomas, Louisiana-Monroe
Michael Vogler, Troy
Jeremy Evans, WKU