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Based on national opinion, Gophers are the underdogs against Middle Tennessee

Depite being the 5-seed, the Gophers are the on-paper underdog of the tournament.
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It seems like every college basketball expert is picking Middle Tennessee to upset the Gophers just like they did as the No. 15 seed against No. 2 seed Michigan State last year.

The Blue Raiders, the No. 12 seed this year, won Conference USA going away while the Gophers, the No. 5 seed in the South Region, turned in the biggest turnaround in the country, going from eight wins last season to 24 this season.

Despite Minnesota's success, they're going into Thursday's first round of the NCAA Tournament as the on-paper underdog.

According to the Courier-Journal, it's the upset to pick.

Sports Illustrated says it won't be a shock if the Blue Raiders beat the Gophers.

"The Blue Raiders added Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams (17.3 points per game) to an already loaded team that includes star junior Giddy Potts (15.8 ppg) and senior Reggie Upshaw (14.5 ppg). Those veterans led Middle Tennessee to a stunning upset over No. 2 Michigan State last year. There’s no doubt that this team is better, which gives the Blue Raiders all the ingredients to pull another NCAA tournament upset.

Minnesota’s lack of NCAA tournament experience and coach Richard Pitino’s first trip to the dance make this matchup the region’s most compelling game. It would be hard to consider it a huge upset if Middle Tennessee wins.

In the Chicago Tribune, Middle Tennessee is the Cinderella team to watch.

"They'll wear the slipper again this year after upsetting No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round last season. This year's Blue Raiders might be better with the return of Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts, who combined for 40 points in that upset. They have two top-50 wins."

USA Today is aware of Middle Tennessee's depth and tournament experience, but also notes Minnesota's biggest strength.

"Middle Tennessee is one of five 30-win teams in Division I and is 5-0 on neutral courts. Minnesota has played the nation’s 17th-toughest schedule according to the NCAA’s measurement. But in Middle Tennessee it is facing a team that allows 63.1 points per game, the 20th-best mark Division I and the same total as No. 1 overall seed Villanova."

According to For The Win, Minnesota's limitations when defensive rebounding and shooting could help Middle Tennessee turn it into a blowout.

"Middle Tennessee also takes care of the ball and can make shots. This team is going to score on Minnesota, and the Big Ten team has had trouble putting the ball in the basket all season with an effective field goal percentage of 48.6, which ranks 249th nationally. This one might not even be close."

Richard Pitino certainly has plenty of bulletin board material if he wants it.

The first-round matchup will be played in Milwaukee at 3 p.m. Thursday.

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