When you think of Tennessee you think of country music. When you think of Middle-Tennessee you think of Country music AND Nashville. If you think of college sports in the state of Tennessee, you think of University of Memphis basketball and University of Tennessee Football. But going seemingly unnoticed in the state of Tennessee is the rise of talented college basketball teams in the center of the state.
Whether it’s the lure of Nashville’s atmosphere, the high-school talent, or a testament to the coaches’ ability, there are four teams that have been successful recently in the Middle-Tennessee region. Three of these teams are from Nashville.
Vanderbilt, who won the SEC championship last season, is continuing to get better under head coach Kevin Stallings. The Commodores, although rebuilding this year after losing their entire team to the NBA and the draft, are still beating really good teams and have the potential to compete in the SEC within the next two years. Vanderbilt went from a team that was known for Women’s basketball to a team that everyone feared in the SEC. Vanderbilt has to potential because of its academics along with the beautiful location to become a great school for every sport.
The next two teams are both in the OVC; a conference known for Murray State, but will soon be known for more. Tennessee State University also lies in downtown Nashville. This season, TSU will not make the tournament, but last season the Tigers were two points from winning against Murray State and making the NCAA tournament. In a league like the OVC, it is very easy for a team to lose all season and get on a hot streak to make it into the tournament as TSU proved last season. Belmont is located in Nashville, as well. The Bruins, after dominating in the Atlantic Sun Conference for many years, have succeeded in their first season in the OVC at a 19-5 record. The majority of Belmont’s losses have been against teams like VCU, Kansas, and Murray State. The Bruins are NCAA tournament bound for the third straight season, and unless Belmont gets put against an extremely talented team like last year has the potential to make it to the second round.
In the exact geographical center of Tennessee, lies the city of Murfreesboro. In Murfreesboro is Middle Tennessee State University. The MTSU Blue Raiders are not only tournament bound this season (a close upset loss to Arkansas State in the sunbelt tournament last year cut their season short) but defeated the Ole Miss Rebels, the Vanderbilt Commodores, and played a close game with the Florida Gators. The Blue Raiders will be joining Conference USA next season – expect the Blue Raiders to get on the map faster than most teams, because MTSU lead by the Knight brothers, Marcus and Tweety, should defeat whichever team they play in the first round of the tournament.
Interestingly enough, prestigious programs have seemingly ignored the successful coaches of teams from this region of Tennessee. You would think that teams looking for good coaches would look to coaches from successful mid-level programs like these – coaches who seem to have taken teams in areas where the best talent goes other places and still created extremely competitive teams.
If you look at the trend in sports in the state of Tennessee, talent seems to be migrating to the middle. Vanderbilt continues to get better in the SEC, and the best players that slip through the cracks from basketball talent rich areas seem to make their way to other Middle-Tennessee Universities. Expect sports talent to slowly shift from Memphis in the West and Knoxville in the East towards the middle of the state. As Nashville asserts itself as one of the more culturally rich and nicer cities in the South, coaches will have more incentives for players to play in the surrounding area and teams will only continue to improve.