Know Your Enemy: Middle Tennessee State
This is not the same MTSU squad Tennessee beat 86-56 last season. This MTSU squad is led by Iowa State transfer and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year LaRon Dendy and junior college transfer Marcos Knight--neither of which played against the Vols last season.
Under their new leadership, MTSU went 26-6, 14-2 in the Sun Belt, this season. A huge improvement over last season's 16-16, 10-6 in conference, mark. The Blue Raiders' 14-2 conference record was good enough to win the conference regular season title by two games over Arkansas-Little Rock, however, Arkansas State upset the Blue Raiders 64-61 in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
On paper, the Blue Raiders look to have the edge. MTSU is fourth in the nation in field goal percentage at 49.6%, while Tennessee shoots 44% from the field. MTSU averages 71.9 points per game, just above Tennessee's average of 69 per game. The Vols do hold the edge in rebounding 36.6 to 34.9, while the Blue Raiders hold the edge in assists 15.5 to 12.9. Common opponents are Austin Peay (MTSU won both meetings, while Tennessee lost to the Governors), Ole Miss (MTSU beat the Rebels by 12, the Vols split their two meetings with the Rebels), and Vanderbilt (the Commodores beat the Blue Raiders by 7 and split their season series with the Vols).
The aforementioned Dendy (6-foot-9, 235 lbs) leads the Blue Raiders in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg) and his .537 shooting percentage is tied for the team lead. Junior forward JT Sulton will join Dendy in the post for MTSU. The 6-foot-8, 230 pound Sulton averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds on the season and tied Dendy for the team lead in field goal percentage.
MTSU's backcourt is manned by Knight (6-foot-2, 210 lbs), Raymond Cintron (6-foot, 195 lbs), and Bruce Massey (6-foot-3, 195 lbs). Knight is second on the team in scoring at 11.7 points per game. He also add 5.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Cintron adds 8.3 points per game and is the team's best shooter of the three ball (43.8%) and free throws (89.6%). Massey is the Blue Raiders' top assist man averaging four per game and the team leader in steals at 1.6 per game.
The Blue Raiders bring firepower off the bench in forward Shawn Jones (7.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and gaurds Jason Jones (4.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg), Kerry Hammonds (4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.8 apg) and Knoxville native James Gallman (3.8 ppg).