ASU Men's Basketball picked to finish 3rd in Sun Belt

NEW ORLEANS ( – Western Kentucky, winners of the last two Sun Belt Conference tournament championships, has been picked to win the league while South Alabama senior forward Augustine Rubit earned distinction as the 2013-14 Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year, the conference office announced on Wednesday.
Voting for the Preseason Sun Belt All-Conference Team and Poll was conducted by the league's 10 head coaches.
The Hilltoppers return four starters from last year's team and are led by third-year head coach Ray Harper.  WKU returns 73.8 percent of its scoring including seven of its top eight scorers.
Leading the Hilltoppers on the court will be two returning juniors, forward George Fant and guard T.J. Price. Fant, an All-Sun Belt Conference Third Team honoree a season ago, averaged 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Those numbers were good for second on the team in scoring and first in rebounding. Price was the Most Outstanding Player at the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Championship and led WKU in scoring at 15.2 points per game. He finished seventh in the conference in scoring, and even improved his production to 18.0 points per game during WKU's run to the conference title.
South Alabama's Rubit finished second in the Sun Belt in scoring (19.4) and double-doubles (16) last season and paced all players with 10.5 rebounds per game, which ranked 10th in the country. The 2012-13 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Rubit became the first player to lead the Sun Belt Conference in rebounding for three straight years. He needs 120 rebounds to become the conference's all-time leader. He was one of two players in the nation to rank in the top 25 in both scoring and rebounding last season. He also ranked second in the NCAA in free throws made (6.8) and free throws attempted (8.3) per game.
South Alabama earned two first-place votes and was picked to finish second in the league. The Jaguars enter the 2013-14 season under new leadership in head coach Matthew Graves. Graves was hired on March 25 and left Butler University after spending the last 10 seasons as an assistant on the staff. South Alabama went 17-13 last season and 14-6 in conference play to finish second in the Eastern Division.
Arkansas State was picked third in the conference following a 19-12 (12-8 SBC) season in 2012-13. The Red Wolves, led by sixth-year head coach John Brady, return two starters in seniors Ed Townsel and Kendrick Washington. Townsel averaged a team-high 13.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season. Washington scored 6.8 points and grabbed a team third-best 4.6 rebounds a contest in the 2012-13 campaign. He also blocked 15 shots, second most on the team.
UL-Lafayette and Sun Belt Conference newcomer Georgia State tied for fourth in the preseason poll.
The Ragin' Cajuns earned one first-place vote and return following a 13-20 (8-12) campaign. UL-Lafayette returns all five starters including junior guard Elfrid Payton. Payton is coming off of a record-setting season that saw him become the only player in the nation to average 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals per game.  He averaged a team-high 15.9 points and 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game, ranking second with 5.6 rebounds. Sophomore forward Shawn Long, a Preseason All-Conference First Team honoree this year, returns after he averaged 15.5 points 10.2 rebounds per game last year.
Georgia State received two first-place votes after finishing last season 13-16 overall while competing in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Panthers, led by third-year head coach Ron Hunter, boast one of the top young scorers in the nation in sophomore RJ Hunter who was one of three freshmen in the country to average at least 17 points and five rebounds per game last year. The Panthers added University of Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, who averaged 9.9 points per game with the Wildcats in the 2012-13 season.
The UALR Trojans went 17-15 last year with an 11-9 conference record to finish second in the Western Division. 10th-year head coach Steve Shields returns four starters to his squad heading into the 2013-14 campaign picked to finish sixth in the conference. The Trojans tackle a tough non-conference slate with road trips to 2013 NCAA Tournament participants Florida, Middle Tennessee, Southern, Oklahoma and Memphis on the schedule. Senior Will Neighbour leads the Trojans into this season (10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg in 2012-13) as he tries to become the first three-time all-conference player in school history.
The two newcomers from the state of Texas come in at Nos. 7 and 8 in the preseason poll, beginning with UT Arlington. The Mavericks enter their first year of Sun Belt play following a 19-14 season. Leading the Mavericks is Brandon Edwards, the team's returning leading scorer, who averaged 7.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Texas State, eighth in the preseason poll, also joins the Sun Belt this season. The Bobcats will be in their first year of Sun Belt play and their first year under new head coach Danny Kaspar, who joined Texas State following a 13-year run as the head coach at Stephen F. Austin. Senior forward Joel Wright leads the Bobcats after he averaged 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season.
Rounding out the preseason coaches' poll are Troy and UL-Monroe. Head coach Phil Cunningham steps into his first season leading the Trojans.
The 2013-14 season begins on Nov. 8 with five Sun Belt Conference teams scheduled to tip-off. This season the conference schedule will feature an 18-game, double round-robin slate culminating with the conference championship set for March 13-16 at the New Orleans Lakefront Arena. Eight of the 10 league teams will qualify for the tournament with the tournament champion advancing to the NCAA tournament.
Preseason Coaches Poll
(First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Western Kentucky
91 (5)
2. South Alabama
78 (2)
3. Arkansas State
T-4. Georgia State
73 (2)
T-4. UL-Lafayette
73 (1)
7. UT Arlington
8. Texas State
9. Troy
10. UL-Monroe
Preseason First Team All-Sun Belt Conference
R.J. Hunter (Georgia State, So., G)
Shawn Long (UL-Lafayette, So., F)
Elfrid Payton (UL-Lafayette, Jr., G)
Augustine Rubit (South Alabama, Sr., F)
T.J. Price (WKU, Jr., G)
Preseason Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference
Will Neighbour (UALR, Sr., F)
Brandon Reed  (Arkansas State, Sr., G)
Ryan Harrow (Georgia State, r-Jr., G)
Joel Wright (Texas State, Sr., F)
George Fant (WKU, Jr., F)
Preseason Third Team All-Sun Belt Conference
Ed Townsel (Arkansas State, Sr., G)
Jayon James (UL-Monroe, Sr., F)
Mychal Ammons (South Alabama, Jr., F)
Brandon Edwards (UT Arlington, Sr., F)
Hunter Williams (Troy, Sr., G)
Preseason Player of the Year
Augustine Rubit (South Alabama, Sr., F)