For the first time since 2010, the Western Kentucky men’s basketball team is considered by the league’s coaches the favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference championship.

The Hilltoppers (20-16, 10-10 SBC, fourth East Division in 2012-13) received 91 points and five first-place votes to top the league’s preseason poll released today. Ray Harper has seven key pieces back from last year’s squad that lost 64-57 to Kansas in the NCAA tournament.

WKU’s main threats to winning its first regular-season title since 2009 are longtime rival South Alabama (second, two first-place votes), Arkansas State (third) and Louisiana-Lafayette (two first-place votes) and Georgia State (one first-place vote) who each tied for fourth.

Arkansas-Little Rock, Texas-Arlington, Texas State, Troy and Louisiana-Monroe rounded out the poll.

Junior guard T.J. Price, who led WKU in scoring last year at 15.2 points per game, was named preseason all-conference first team and junior forward George Fant, who led WKU in rebounding last year at 6.6 per game, was named preseason all-conference second team.

South Alabama senior forward Augustine Rubit was named preseason player of the year.

WKU will play Campbellsville in an exhibition at 3 p.m. Saturday, then open the 2013-14 campaign at Wichita State at midnight Nov. 12.

Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference First Team

R.J. Hunter (Georgia State, So., G)

Shawn Long (Louisiana-Lafayette, So., F)

Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr., G)

Augustine Rubit (South Alabama, Sr., F)

T.J. Price (Western Kentucky, Jr., G)

Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Second Team

Will Neighbour (Arkansas-Little Rock, Sr., F)

Brandon Reed  (Arkansas State, Sr., G)

Ryan Harrow (Georgia State, r-Jr., G)

Joel Wright (Texas State, Sr., F)

George Fant (Western Kentucky, Jr., F)

Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Third Team

Ed Townsel (Arkansas State, Sr., G)

Jayon James (Louisiana-Monroe, Sr., F)

Mychal Ammons (South Alabama, Jr., F)

Brandon Edwards (Texas-Arlington, Sr., F)

Hunter Williams (Troy, Sr., G)

Preseason Player of the Year

Augustine Rubit (South Alabama, Sr., F)

Preseason Coaches’ Poll (first place votes in parenthesis)

1. Western Kentucky 91 (5)

2. South Alabama 78 (2)

3. Arkansas State 74

T-4. Georgia State 73 (2)

T-4. Louisiana -Lafayette 73 (1)

6. Arkansas-Little Rock 48

7. Texas-Arlington 36

8. Texas State 34

9. Troy 26

10. ULM 17

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