The Middle Tennessee men’s basketball team face a similar challenge when they open up their season:
Fill the voids created by key players departing.
MTSU, led by head coach Kermit Davis, faces this trial more so this season.
The Blue Raiders current roster has nine newcomers out of the 15, composed of five freshmen and four transfers.
The five freshmen on the squad mark the highest amount since the 2009-2010 season.
MTSU went 19-14 that season, losing in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament to Missouri State.
The Blue Raiders also dropped their first contest of the season, losing in an exhibition game to Martin Methodist.
It was the first loss in the preseason for the Blue Raiders since Nov. 5, 2002, an 80-73 loss to Global Sports Academy.
MTSU finished 16-14 in the 2002 season.
Even with new players, mainly transfers, seeming to be a common theme for Kermit Davis’ previous teams, Middle Tennessee has managed to earn a share of three consecutive regular-season C-USA titles.
Davis thinks this might be a longer transition than in previous years.
“I knew that there was going to be some growing pains,” Davis said. “I think it may be a little longer of a process. We’ve got to have our returning guys play better. We’ve always had, when these new guys came in, at least some returning guys to keep us stable. So we’ve got to have those guys play better.”
The Blue Raiders welcome transfers Perrin Buford, DJ Jones, Darnell Harris and Xavier Habersham.
Buford was an All-Tennessee Community College Athletic Association First-Team Selection. Jones, a native of Chicago, is an athletic guard that has range when shooting the ball.
Harris, a 6-8 transfer forward from Wisconsin-Whitewater, has shown the ability to rebound efficiently and shoot.
Habersham played for Hill College last season, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds.
The key players departing from last year’s squad are C-USA Player of the Year Shawn Jones, Neiko Hunter, Kerry Hammonds and Tweety Knight.
Middle Tennessee returns Reggie Upshaw, Jaqawn Raymond, Jacquez Rozier, Marcus Tarrance and Gavin Gibson from last year’s team.
Of the players returning for MTSU, Reggie Upshaw and Jacquez Rozier may prove to be the most vital.
Sophomore Reggie Upshaw made 20 starts in his freshman campaign, the highest amount for any returning Blue Raider. Upshaw averaged 6.4 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per contest.
Senior forward Jacquez Rozier played in all 33 games last season, starting in only two. Rozier averaged 3.4 points per game and 3.6 boards behind star forward Shawn Jones.
“Jacquez and Reggie are the two leaders of our team,” Davis said. “Jacquez is probably the most vocal, and we need his maturity in there. It’s really his team, he’s been here for four years and been through a lot of winning and a lot of physical games and adversity.”
The Blue Raiders will also look to continue their success in the Murphy Center, and in conference play.
MTSU holds a 46-6 record in conference play over the previous three seasons, ranking second in the country behind Davidson (48-4).
Middle Tennessee also holds a 45-4 record in the Murphy Center in the past three years, including a 14-2 record last season at home.
The Blue Raiders will face another difficult schedule this season as they take on four teams that received votes in the AP Top 25 poll: Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and University of Texas at El Paso.
MTSU will also host rival Western Kentucky and travel to take on key opponents Auburn, Belmont and Akron. The Blue Raiders will have a potential matchup against either Ole Miss or Creighton in the Emerald Coast Classic as well.
Middle Tennessee opens up its regular season Friday in a matchup against Ohio Valley. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. CT.
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