UT Arlington voted favorites for 2016-17 Sun Belt men’s basketball season

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NEW ORLEANS – The UT Arlington Mavericks are the favorite with its standout scorer, junior forward Kevin Hervey, named the Preseason Player of the Year, as the Sun Belt Conference enters its 41st year of men’s basketball with the 2016-17 season, the conference announced on Wednesday.

The league also announced its Preseason All-Conference first, second and third teams on Wednesday following a poll of the conference’s 12 head coaches.

UT Arlington returns five starters including Hervey, who missed the Mavericks’ final 19 games after suffering a season-ending knee injury. Hervey nearly averaged a double-double (18.1 ppg/9.8 rpg) in 16 games last season while leading the Mavericks to a 9-2 record in non-conference play that included wins at Memphis and Ohio State. UT Arlington also returns First Team honoree junior Erick Neal (12.7 ppg/6.2 apg) at the point guard position along with two double-figure scorers in senior Jalen Jones (12.7 ppg) and junior Kaelon Wilson (10.0 ppg).

Hervey is the only forward on the first team. Neal, along with three other student-athletes, headline the guard-heavy All-Conference honorees, with 11 guards occupying a possible 15 spots across the three teams. Three guards in Arkansas State senior Devin Carter, Georgia Southern sophomore Tookie Brown and Little Rock senior Marcus Johnson Jr. round out the All-Conference First Team.

Neal earned First Team All-Conference  laurels following the 2015-16 season after he led the Sun Bet in assists per game (6.2), was third in steals per game (1.6) and fourth in assist-turnover ratio (2.4). Neal averaged 12.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and also recorded the first triple-double in UT Arlington history with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists at UL Monroe on Jan. 28. He scored in double-figures on 23 separate occasions last season and notched double-digit assist totals in three games.

Brown earned the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award and was a First Team All-Conference honoree last year after he averaged 17.8 points, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He set the Georgia Southern freshman scoring record with 551 points and became the school’s first freshman to score 30-plus points in one game (34 at App, Jan. 25). Brown ranked fourth in the league in scoring, seventh in assists and second in steals, and scored in doubles figures in 29 games.

Johnson Jr. was a Second Team All-Conference award winner after he helped lead Little Rock to a historic 30-5 overall record and a sweep of the Sun Belt regular-season and tournament titles. He played in all 35 games and led the Sun Belt in 3-point shooting percentage (46.6 percent) and ranked 11th in the league in field goal percentage (47.3 percent). He averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.8 steals per game during the 2015-16 season.

Carter was the leading scorer for the Red Wolves last season as he averaged 17.3 points to rank fifth in the Sun Belt. His scoring average was the highest by an Arkansas State student-athlete since the 2007-08 season. He led the team, and finished second in the Sun Belt, in 3-point field goal percentage (41.7 percent) and finished second on the team in field-goal percentage (45.8 percent).

The 2016-17 season begins on Nov. 11. This season’s conference schedule will feature an 18-game slate amongst the league’s 12 teams that leads to the conference championship beginning Mar. 8 at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. All 12 teams qualify for the tournament in March, with the winner of the championship earning the league’s automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The championship game of the tournament is scheduled for Selection Sunday, Mar. 12, and will be televised on ESPN2.

Preseason Coaches’ Poll
Points (first-place votes)
UT Arlington
140 (10)
Little Rock
124 (1)
Georgia State
114 (1)
Georgia Southern
Coastal Carolina
South Alabama
UL Lafayette
UL Monroe
Arkansas State
Appalachian State
Texas State
Preseason First Team All-Conference
Devin Carter (Arkansas State, Senior, Guard, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Tookie Brown (Georgia Southern, Sophomore, Guard, Sport Management)
Marcus Johnson Jr. (Little Rock, Senior, Guard, Criminal Justice)
Kevin Hervey (UT Arlington, Junior, Forward, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Erick Neal (UT Arlington, Junior, Guard, Communication Broadcasting)
Preseason Second Team All-Conference
Elijah Wilson (Coastal Carolina, Senior, Guard)
Mike Hughes (Georgia Southern, Junior, Guard, Sport Management)
Jeremy Hollowell (Georgia State, Senior, Forward, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Ken Williams (South Alabama, Senior, Guard, Interdisciplinary Studies)
Wesley Person (Troy, Junior, Guard, Global Business)
Preseason Third Team All-Conference
Ronshad Shabazz (Appalachian State, Sophomore, Guard, Undecided)
Jay Wright (UL Lafayette, Senior, Guard, General Studies)
Nick Coppola (UL Monroe, Senior, Guard, Risk Management and Insurance)
Kavin Gilder-Tilbury (Texas State, Senior, Forward, General Studies)
Jordon Varnado (Troy, Sophomore, Forward, Global Business)
Preseason Player of the Year
Kevin Hervey (UT Arlington, Junior, Forward, Interdisciplinary Studies)
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