What are the key statistical indicators fans should circle that will play a big role in determining how successful the coming season will be?
GoMiddle.com continues its countdown to tipoff series with an over/under analysis and prediction for five key stats that will likely swing the season for the better or worse.
1) Kevin Kanaskie and Nigel Johnson's assist-to-turnover ratio
Over/under: 1.5 to 1
The two senior guards are the fuel that drives the Blue Raider offense and their ability to manage games is by far one of the biggest indicators of success for Middle Tennessee. Last year, they combined to post a 1.36 to 1 ratio in this category, but they need to improve that mark for the team's fortunes to improve this year. In Middle Tennessee's impressive run through the Sun Belt Tournament last year, Johnson and Kanaskie combined for 30 assists and just 18 turnovers in the team's three wins. In the championship game loss to Western Kentucky, they tallied just five assists while committing six turnovers.
Over or under: Over - As seniors, Johnson and Kanaskie should be able to put together their most consistent seasons.
2) Defensive field goal percentage
Over/under: 42.5 percent
The Blue Raiders struggled a bit in this area last year when they surrendered nearly 45 percent from the floor to finish in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt. Field goal percentage defense is one of the things Kermit Davis wants his team to hang its hat on, and he'll be the first to say he was not satisfied with his team's performance in that area last year. The 3-point line being pushed back a foot should bring shooting percentages down across the board, but to get opponents' percentage below 42.5 Middle Tennessee will need to make some key improvements. Interior defense is the biggest way the Blue Raiders can get better. MT allowed opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from inside the 3-point line last year. Compare that to UALR, which surrendered less than 47 percent from 2-point range while allowing just 40.3 percent field goal shooting overall.
Over or under: Over-With senior center Theryn Hudson's status in doubt, the Blue Raiders may struggle defending the post, particularly early in the season.
3) Made 3-pointers
The Blue Raiders made just 175 3-pointers last year to rank 10th in the Sun Belt. Wanting to address that in the offseason, Davis brought in shooting guard Eric Allen from junior college to try to boost MT's explosiveness. The Blue Raiders were unable to build separation in some close games last year because they rarely went on spurts of hot 3-point shooting, which also made it difficult to overcome double digit deficits. Even with the 3-point line being pushed back, MT should hit a significantly higher number of treys this year, but how many more?
Over or under: Over-Allen's arrival won't single handedly cause the increase, but it will certainly help. Nigel Johnson was the Sun Belt's best 3-point shooter in conference games last year and Kevin Kanaskie could stake a claim to being the best outside shooter in the league. Desmond Yates has proven to be very efficient from long range as well.
4) Offensive rebounds per game
Middle Tennessee was one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the Sun Belt last year, a stat that must improve if the Blue Raiders want to pick up more second chance points. The problem is that the team does not return any proven offensive rebounders. Kermit Davis would love to see Desmond Yates or Dino Hair become that kind of player, but at this point both are question marks in this area. One need only look at the Sun Belt championship game last year to see the importance of winning the battle on the offensive glass. Western Kentucky beat Middle Tennessee by 10 points on the scoreboard and by 10 points in second chance points.
Over or under: Under - With Theryn Hudson's timeline for return a major unknown for the time being, it's hard to reasonably expect the Blue Raiders to be much better on the offensive glass. Newcomer Montarrio Haddock could be an X-Factor in this category if he shows the aggressiveness on the offensive boards that he showed in the exhibition opener.
5) Desmond Yates points per game
Yates averaged 16 points per game last year on his way to earning All Sun Belt honors and a popular theory this year is that his numbers may go down slightly because the Blue Raiders are expected to be a little more balanced offensively. The flip side to that argument is that the Blue Raiders enter this season knowing full well that Yates is their go to player. At the beginning of last season, they were hoping he would become that player. He didn't have his first 20 point game of last year until game number seven.
Over or under: Over-Yates is clearly the main option for the offense and he will get plenty of touches down the stretch in tight games. The offense may indeed be more balanced this year, but we still expect Yates to score at a higher clip.
GoMiddle.com Countdown to Tipoff
40 days-October 6th: Schedule full of challenges, opportunities
39 days-October 7th: Sun Belt newcomers to watch
38 days-October 8th: Strong memory motivates Yates
37 days-October 9th: Kanaskie in position to leave a legacy
36 days-October 10th: Johnson driving force behind MT attack
35 days-October 11th: O'Neil hopes to pick up where he left off
34 days-October 12th: Boyd's long awaited debut getting closer
33 days-October 13th: Allen may be MT's missing piece
32 days-October 14th: Hudson aiming for quick recovery
31 days-October 15th: Williams can be a first year factor
30 days-October 16th: X-Factor Hair could push Raiders over top
29 days-October 17th: Green's contributions important for MT
28 days-October 18th: Lighter Haddock making big early impression
27 days-October 19th: Jones adjusting to new level
26 days-October 20th: Avery is a glue man for Blue Raiders
25 days-October 21st: Hopson brings plenty of value
24 days-October 22nd: Inside a scouting report with Artie Pepelea
23 days-October 23rd: Case has bright outlook in new post
22 days-October 24th: Top five wins of Kermit Davis era
21 days-October 25th: Top five near misses of Kermit Davis era
20 days-October 26th: Davis era: Top five individual performances
19 days-October 27th: Hoops facilities have come a long way at MT
18 days-October 28th: GoMiddle.com Preseason All Sun Belt-First Team
17 days-October 29th: GoMiddle.com Preseason All Sun Belt-Second Team
16 days-October 30th: GoMiddle.com Preseason All Sun Belt-Third Team
15 days-October 31st: MT strategy may be altered by 3-point line
14 days-November 1st: Sun Belt aims at multiple bids again
13 days-November 2nd: Preview: Sun Belt East remains strong
12 days-November 3rd: Preview: West expected to be wild
11 days-November 4th: Sun Belt profile raised by new coaching hires
10 days-November 5th: Preseason Sun Belt superlatives
9 days-November 6th: MT basketball preseason over/under