By Matt Norlander
If Kermit Davis is ever going to get to the 20-win water mark at Middle Tennessee, it has to be this year. Why? The Blue Raiders’ head coach said this group is the deepest team he’s had in his 10 seasons at Middle Tennessee -- and “it’s not even close.”
Davis’ previous campaigns, in succession, have win totals of 14, 17, 19, 16, 15, 17, 18, 19, 16. Never a bad team -- but fair to say never a really good one. It’s time for the Blue Raiders to break through. The team won the Sun Belt regular-season title two years ago, but was upset by Denver in the conference tournament. The program has won more conference games than any other in the Sun Belt over the past four years. Davis knows there are no real excuses anymore for he and his program.
For its summer excursion, Middle Tennessee flew up to Calgary to play four games in three days last week. It was one of the few clubs this summer that didn’t make it a point to travel all around, doing a lot of sight-seeing and get in a full-on touristy type experience. The team played in one arena, stayed in downtown Calgary and went 4-0 playing against the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta twice and a hodgepodge all-star team from the area.
It was the best possible scenario for Davis’ team, as far as he was concerned. There was focus on hoops every day.
What Davis learned: The aforementioned depth. Davis and his staff knew there’d be a lot of players who could get some quality minutes this season, but the games in Calgary confirmed their beliefs. This team should be 10 deep, no problem.
“And we better have depth, because we’re going to need it,” Davis said., alluding to his team’s non-conference schedule, which will have a number of BCS programs. The schedule hasn’t officially been released yet, but we do know Middle Tennessee will partake in the on-land portion of the newly formatted Maui Invitational and has locked in three BCS schools.
Who impressed him: Above all others, LaRon Dendy, a 6-9, 235-pound redshirt senior and former Iowa State forward who will be key this year. Also, the 6-6 junior Jason Jones, who was the second-leading scorer on the team last season and was used on 25 percent of the Blue Raiders’ possessions.
What concerned him: “I think my concerns are similar to what a lot of coaches have right now, talking about movement on the floor, ball reversal and assist-to-turnovers.” The team had 28 turnovers and 15 steals per game in Calgary, but Davis said his team’s but offensive execution needs the most work before the season starts in nine weeks.
-- Davis got a look at four new guards who will fight for a lot of playing time. Raymond Cintron, a new guard to the team by way of Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College, scored 25 in the team’s final game. “He’ll be able to play the point guard and the shooting guard,” Davis said.
-- Injuries: a couple guys missed a couple of games, most notably hybrid guard/forward Kerry Hammonds due to a twisted ankle. James Gallman suffered a concussion.
-- The most unknown factor to Middle Tennessee’s season is Oklahoma State transfer Torin Walker. He’s a 6-11 sophomore, but his eligibility is in question right now. Walker did not make the trip with the team because he and his mother were cited to have possibly taken illegal benefits from a Georgia AAU coach three years ago. Walker played for the Georgia Blazers. Davis said the problem stems from one AAU coach helping his mother take a trip on a recruiting visit.
Davis added that he and Middle Tennessee compliance are doing all they can to make this as transparent as possible, and he hopes this won’t trickle into the season, as these allegations came long before Middle Tennessee was ever involved with Walker.
-- If Walker is eligible then he’ll no doubt be in the start five. As of now, Davis sees Dendy, J.T. Sulton, Jones and Cintron as starters.