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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.
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Middle Tennessee Headlines 2020-21 C-USA Women's Basketball Preseason Poll
Posted: November 4, 2020 -- 11:21 a.m. CT
Middle Tennessee was elected the 2020-21 Conference USA women's basketball preseason favorite by vote of the league's 14 head coaches. Lady Raider junior Anastasia Hayes and Rice redshirt-senior Nancy Mulkey share Preseason Player of the Year honors, the league announced Wednesday.
Middle Tennessee landed itself atop the preseason rankings with eight first-place votes. The Lady Raiders finished fourth in last season's C-USA race (21-9, 13-5), and was the fourth seed for the C-USA Championship that never came to full fruition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hayes, the 2019-20 Newcomer of the Year, paced the league in minutes per game (37.1), ranked second in scoring average (18.7) and was fourth in both assists (4.4) and steals (1.9). The guard's 28 of 29 games in double figures landed her an All-C-USA first team nod. Also representing Middle Tennessee on the preseason squad is the second half of the familial dynamic duo. Aislynn Hayes, guard and reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year, ranked second behind her sister in team minutes (36.8) and scoring (14.1). She made history as the first player to be named USBWA National Freshman of the Week three times.
Rice earned the runner-up spot with three first-place votes. In March, the Owls became the first program in C-USA history to win the regular season championship outright in back-to-back years. Rice compiled a 21-8 overall record, going 16-2 in league play, and returns the two-time C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in Mulkey. The center's 3.21 blocks per game ranked fifth in NCAA Division I with her total 77 landing inside the nation's top 20. Offensively, Mulkey was third in C-USA free throw percentage (84.8) and fifth in field goal percentage (52.4), and found herself in double figures in 14 of 24 games.
Also collecting another trio of first-place nods was Old Dominion, the predicted third-place finisher and the only other team to roster two preseason picks. The Monarchs never reached postseason play due to the shutdown, but owned the second seed in the C-USA tournament courtesy of a 14-4 C-USA record. The team's 24-6 overall mark was the second-straight 20+ win campaign for the young squad. First-year head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones looks to carry on that success with junior forward Amari Young and junior guard Ajah Wayne. Young averaged 10.7 points in all 30 starts and led Old Dominion in minutes (28.6), rebounds (8.2) and steals (2.1). Wayne also posted an average 10.7 points alongside a team second-best 6.9 rebounds in 27 starts.
The delayed 2020-21 campaign tips off Wednesday, Nov. 25 and culminates in the 2021 Conference USA Basketball Championships March 10-13 at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. C-USA will host 12 men's and 12 women's teams for the fourth-straight year. The women's final is scheduled for Saturday, March 13, to be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
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2020-21 C-USA Preseason Team
Mariah Linney, Charlotte
Amber Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Savannah Wheeler, Marshall
Aislynn Hayes, Middle Tennessee
*Anastasia Hayes, Middle Tennessee
*Nancy Mulkey, Rice
Amari Young, Old Dominion
Ajah Wayne, Old Dominion
Katia Gallegos, UTEP
* - Preseason Players of the Year
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