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November 8, 2012

Preview: Lady Raiders vs Kennesaw State

After an appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season, the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders prepare to begin the 2012-2013 season in the Preseason WNIT Tournament.

The Lady Raiders will start up the regular season against the Kennesaw State Fighting Owls Friday night in Murfreesboro. MT went 26-7 (16-0) last season and won the Sun Belt Conference regular season title. However, they were upset in the championship round of the SBC Tournament by the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans.

Their impressive regular season earned them a birth in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed but the Lady Raiders fell in the opening round to the No. 7 seeded Vanderbilt Commodores.

The Kennesaw State Fighting Owls went 14-17 (8-10) last season, earning the No. 5 seed in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. KSU, however, went on to be upset by the No. 12 seeded Florida-Gulf Coast Eagles, thus ending their season.

The Fighting Owls have never made the NCAA Tournament in the history of their program.

BREAKING DOWN THE LADY RAIDERS

The Blue Raiders return nine players from last year's roster, including every major starter. Anchored by senior Kortni Jones and junior Ebony Rowe, the Lady Raiders are poised to make another run at the SBC title and take another crack at advancing deeper in the NCAA Tournament.

Jones had a stellar 2011-12 campaign, in which she averaged a team-leading 16.8 points per game and 5.6 assists per game, respectively, while shooting 70% from the charity stripe. Jones led the team in scoring in 18 out of the 34 games last season, including a season high of 25 points on two separate occasions. She ranked second in the nation in 3-pointers made, whilst breaking both school and conference records in the process.

Rowe was a double-double machine last season. The second leading scorer on the team, Rowe averaged 16.2 points per game 10 rebounds per game while shooting 55% from the field. Through two seasons, no player in program history has scored more points than Ebony Rowe. On pace to go down as one of the best all-around players that the Lady Raider program has ever seen, Rowe will undoubtedly make a move further up the all-time scoring list this season.

Another player to keep an eye on this season is senior Icelyn Elie, who averaged 14 points per game last season. Elie was third on the team in scoring and second in rebounds, and is a great third option for the team to go to when needed.

Other starter include Shanice Cason, who averaged seven points per game, and Laken Leonard, who chipped in five points per game.

Overall, there are nine returning players from last season, roster. However, it is the newest addition that has people talking. Head coach Rick Insell finally got what he had been seeking for so long - a big girl. JUCO transfer Janiece Johnson will be the tallest player to ever take the court for the Lady Raiders when the season tips off. At 6'7", Johnson will provide what many have thought has been the missing piece on Insell's teams - a post presence who can push people around.

How many minutes Johnson will see is yet to be determined - she does not exactly fit the mold of the up-tempo style the Lady Raiders are accustomed to playing - but when she is in the game, opponents will have to beware.

BREAKING DOWN THE FIGHTING OWLS

The Kennesaw State Fighting Owls will return nine players from last year's roster, including six players who had significant playing time. The top returners are guards Ashley Holiday and Kristina Wells, as well as forwards Lisa Capellan and Sametria Gideon.

The best returning player for the Fighting Owls have is senior forward Sametria Gideon. Gideon led the team with 11 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks per game, while shooting 43% from the field last season.

Holiday averaged nine points per game while shooting 30% from behind the arc and 78% from the charity stripe.

Wells also averaged nine points per game and shot 41% from the field while averaging three steals per game and a team-leading 5.5 rebounds.

Lisa Capellan averaged seven points per game with a 42% field goal rate.

As a team, the Fighting Owls averaged 63 points per game.

PREDICTION: MT 83, KSU 50

Taking all the variables into account, I think Middle Tennessee will move onto the second round of the WNIT Tournament with decisive blowout victory inside the friendly confines of "the Glass House."

Look for Rowe and Jones to have their way with the Fighting Owls on offense, while the Lady Raider defense causes an abundance of turnovers with their press defense.

I do not expect the Lady Raiders to struggle in many, if any, areas of the game and should dominate the stat sheet when it is all said and done.

With the win, Middle Tennessee will host the next round of the WNIT tournament and face either the Memphis Tigers or the Grambling State Tigers.



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