Skip to main content

NCAA Tournament: Trying to put a dent in Middle Tennessee's armor

Middle Tennessee is wearing the slipper, but they're not as a big and bad as most people think.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

Are the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders really as dangerous as every expert in the country says they are?

Twelve seeds are always trendy picks to beat 5 seeds, but MTSU is the trendiest of the trendy upset picks this year largely due to their upset over Michigan State as a 15-seed last year.

"I'll be honest with you, in my wildest dreams I didn't think they'd hit some of the shots they hit," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after losing to MTSU last season, via ESPN. "We didn't guard them good, but man, they made some shots."

This five-minute highlight package from the game shows some of the wild shots MTSU hit.

The slipper wouldn't already be on MTSU's foot if not for a brutal start by the Spartans. MLive.com's recap from last year's game is perfect:

"Michigan State's start qualified as its worst of the season. It took the Blue Raiders just 3:30 to to go out to its 15-2 lead. Middle Tennessee State came out with more energy, hit from inside and outside as Michigan State was lethargic on both ends to climb into an early hole."

Basically, Michigan State started that game similar to how Minnesota started in Saturday's Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss to Michigan. That can't happen again on Thursday.

Gophers defense will test Middle Tennessee

The crazy shots Izzo mentioned didn't drop in MTSU's second-round NCAA Tournament game last year, losing to Syracuse, 75-50.

  • Against Michigan State: 55.9% shooting, 11-of-19 on threes
  • Against Syracuse: 29.7% shooting, 8-of-24 on threes

Reggie Upshaw led MTSU with 21 points against Michigan State and then shot 1-of-10 against Syracuse. Giddy Potts scored 19 against the Spartans and just 9 against Syracuse.

The difference: Syracuse played great defense and Michigan State didn't.

The Gophers are a really solid defensive team, 10th in the nation in 3-point defense and second in the nation in blocks. Reggie Lynch, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, has the second-most blocks in the country (111).

Upshaw and Potts are both back and MTSU added Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams, who was named the Conference USA Player of the Year. So yes, they are better, but that doesn't change the fact that their win over Michigan State probably wouldn't have happened if they played that game again.

MTSU knocked off UNC-Wilmington, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt this season, but Vandy was garbage in early December – definitely not the same team that played Kentucky to the wire and beat Florida twice down the stretch to earn a 9-seed in the dance. Upshaw finished two assists shy of a triple double against Ole Miss.

Middle Tennessee is streaky

Should the Gophers be frightened by a team that went down 19 points to 7-win Florida International? Think Richard Pitino hasn't called his former team for a scouting report? Pitino was FIU's head coach before coming to Minnesota.

More: Potts led the country in 3-point percentage last season at 50.6%. He's down to 39.7% this season. Still good, but not elite.

Bottom line: MTSU is streaky. Whey they are hot they can beat anybody. When they're off, they're prone to get beat.

If MTSU can't score against Minnesota's tremendous interior defense they'll have to score from the outside against a Gophers team that limited opponents to 30.5% on 3-pointers.

Advantage for Minnesota

Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis is readily aware of the home-court advantage Minnesota could have with the game being played in Milwaukee.

"We know Minnesota is going to travel really well, it's kind of Big Ten country in that area," Davis told WGNS. "It would make our players feel really good to have a great contingent of Blue there on Thursday."

MTSU is experienced and dangerous, but not as surefire of an upset as a lot of experts are making them.

Next Up

freight train railroad tracks

Man crawls to safety before train hits his stuck wheelchair

The incident happened Tuesday on Highway 169.

US Bank Stadium

Sizing up Vikings coaching candidates we know about so far

A closer look at some of the head coaching candidates interviewed by the Vikings

St. Paul police

St. Paul: Man called police to report he killed his wife

Police are also investigating a separate fatal shooting in the Frogtown neighborhood.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Timberwolves survive Knicks' second-half barrage to get back to .500

Karl-Anthony Towns' lay-in helped Minnesota get a win in The Garden.

FLickr - crime scene tape do not crozz

Charges: MN teen shot mom after dispute over meth

The girl's mother said there had been a dispute over methamphetamine.

bad roads, blizzard

No travel advised: High winds, whiteout conditions in NW MN

Zero visibility in parts of greater Minnesota Tuesday night.

holy angels high school j nelson

Update: Holy Angels evacuated over bomb threat, school says

Someone left a voicemail early Tuesday suggesting there was an explosive device.

radio station, microphone

Convicted stalker charged with harassment of another DJ at The Current

He pleaded guilty to similar charges involving the DJ's colleague back in 2015.

Mall of America exterior Tyler Vigen Wikimedia COmmons

10 new shops, food stops at Mall of America

Donuts, K-fashion, model cars — the new tenants cover a lot of bases.

Gophers basketball

Gophers fall below roster minimum, postpone Penn State game

It is "due to internal COVID-19 protocols within the Golden Gopher program."

Raheem Morris

Report: Vikings request interview with Rams' Raheem Morris

Morris was once the youngest head coach in the NFL at 33 years old.

train crossing S Boardman Ave, New York Mills, Minnesota - August 2013 crop GSV

Sheriff: Drunk driver crashed trying to 'beat the train'

The BNSF train slammed into the side of the driver's car.

Related

NCAA Tournament: Trying to put a dent in Middle Tennessee's armor

Middle Tennessee is wearing the slipper, but they're not as a big and bad as most people think.

March Madness: Gophers get 5-seed, will play Middle Tennessee

The Gophers open the NCAA tourney Thursday against Middle Tennessee.

March Madness: Gophers get 5-seed, will play Middle Tennessee

The Gophers open the NCAA tourney Thursday against Middle Tennessee.

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.

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.

Updated bracketology: Gophers could skyrocket to a high NCAA tourney seed

Minnesota's rise in the Big Ten could result in a really impressive seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Updated bracketology: Gophers could skyrocket to a high NCAA tourney seed

Minnesota's rise in the Big Ten could result in a really impressive seed in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 2 in the country and NCAA doesn't give Gophers softball a top 16 seed

Despite the most wins in the country, the Gophers didn't get one of the top 16 seeds.