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.

“We’re going to go about our business on a daily basis to try to get better each day, whether we’re picked first or eighth,” Harper said last week during the program’s media day. “That’s just kind of how we conduct business. I think these guys have been really good about being consistent each day with their work ethic and understanding that we got a long way to go, and our goal is to get better every day.”

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), which 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.

“I’ve seen some (national) preseason predictions, and we’ve been picked as low as fifth in the league,” Harper said last week. “One came out and we were picked fourth in the league. I don’t think we have a target on our back. I think the people that have a target are the ones usually picked to win the league.”

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.

— Chad Bishop covers Western Kentucky University athletics. Follow him on Twitter at or visit

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