The Sun Belt Conference released its men's basketball preseason projections Tuesday morning, and the league's coaches voted WKU seniors Sergio Kerusch and Steffphon Pettigrew to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference First Team and named Kerusch the Preseason Player of the Year.
The coaches also voted WKU as the favorite to win the conference's East Division. WKU earned 11 of 12 first-place votes on the east side, while North Texas swept all 12 votes in the conference's West Division. North Texas won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament last season to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Kerusch becomes the second-straight Hilltopper to be named the Preseason Player of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference, following former Hilltopper AJ Slaughter's selection prior to the 2009-10 season. Kerusch was also named the SBC Preseason Player of the Year by Blue Ribbon Yearbook last month.
WKU finished the 2009-10 season with a 21-13 overall record and a 12-6 mark in conference play, which was good for third place in the East Division. The Hilltoppers advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament before bowing out after a six-point defeat to top-seeded Troy.
Despite missing 14 games due to injury in 2009-10, Kerusch still contributed 14.3 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game for the Hilltoppers as a junior a year ago. Kerusch started hot right out of the gate with an average of 20.6 points per game in WKUâ€™s first three contests of the season.
The Memphis, Tenn., native scored in double-figures 15 times in 2009-10 and led WKU in rebounding eight times. He also recorded four double-doubles in 2009-10, giving him 14 in two seasons as a Hilltopper. Kerusch shot .453 from the field in his junior campaign, helping the Hilltoppers to their 40th all-time 20-win season.
Pettigrew has been a staple for the WKU menâ€™s basketball team in his three seasons on the Hill. A former Kentucky Mr. Basketball award-winner, Pettigrew averaged 14.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a junior in 2009-10 en route to All-Sun Belt Conference Second Team honors after the season. The Elizabethtown, Ky., native has scored in double-figures in 31 of his last 37 games and has 55 games of 10 or more points in his career.
Pettigrew seems to rise to the occasion in WKUâ€™s biggest games, proving that in 2009-10 by scoring at least 22 points in key games against Louisville, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Troy. Pettigrew became a member of WKUâ€™s illustrious 1,000-point club in 2009-10 and ranks 35th in career scoring as a Hilltopper entering the 2010-11 season.
Both Kerusch and Pettigrew were Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Second Team selections a year ago.
WKU hits the floor for the first time in 2010-11 on Sunday with a 3:00 PM exhibition game against Campbellsville. Following a second exhibition game at E.A. Diddle Arena on Thursday, November 4 against Xavier (La.), WKU opens the regular season on Friday, November 12 at St. Joseph's. The home opener for the Hilltoppers comes Monday, November 15 against Alabama A&M.
The entire Sun Belt Conference preseason announcement, which was made in conjunction with the start of men's basketball media day activities for the league, is below:
PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAMS
George Odufuwa (North Texas, Sr., F)
Josh White (North Texas, Sr., G)
Tim Williams (South Alabama, Sr., G)
Sergio Kerusch (WKU, Sr., F)
Steffphon Pettigrew (WKU, Sr., F)
Martavius Adams (Arkansas State, Jr., F/C)
Donald Boone (Arkansas State, Sr., G)
Greg Gantt (Florida Atlantic, So., G)
Raymond Taylor (Florida Atlantic, So., G)
Tristan Thompson (North Texas, Sr., G)
Solomon Bozeman (UALR, Sr., G)
Brett Royster (Florida Atlantic, Sr., F)
Marvin Roberts (FIU, Sr., G/F)
Randell Daigle (Louisiana-Lafayette, Sr., G)
James Washington (Middle Tennessee, Sr., G)
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Sergio Kerusch (WKU, Sr., F)
2010 SBC COACHES PRESEASON PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH (first place votes)
1. North Texas (12) 72
2. Arkansas State 55
3. Denver 51
4. Louisiana-Lafayette 36
5. UALR 26
6. ULM 12
1. WKU (11) 71
2. Florida Atlantic (1) 53
3. South Alabama 47
4. Middle Tennessee 42
5. FIU 22
6. Troy 17