It’s a little late for a look back at Middle Tennessee’s 93-41 thrashing of the Troy Trojans last Saturday, but it’s hard not to wonder exactly how the Blue Raiders are doing what they’re doing. The 52-point margin of victory is tied for fifth-largest in men’s basketball this year, but the Blue Raiders are more than just one lopsided win.
Kermit Davis’ squad is tied with Gonzaga for most wins in Division I with 22. The Blue Raiders have the 15th-best scoring defense in the country (57.9 ppg). They have the 14th-best scoring margin in the country (+12.8). They boast the 11th-best winning percentage in the country (84.6%). They’re 29th in the RPI rankings. All these stats are fun to look at, but the players are what makes a team dominant.
MTSU has only one player—senior guard Marcos Knight—averaging more than 10 points, yet they average 70.7 per game. Their leading rebounder, who also happens to be Marcos Knight, averages 5.8 boards per game, yet they average 38.8 per game.
How are the Blue Raiders 22-4 overall and 14-1 in the Sun Belt Conference? How have they won 11-straight games and 15 of the last 16?
Maybe it’s their non-conference strength of schedule, which ranks 13th in the NCAA. Anyone who plays, has played and/or follows sports knows that you don’t get better by playing bad teams. Middle Tennessee is certainly not guilty of playing bad teams. They’ve lost to Florida, Akron, Belmont and Arkansas State—all on the road and two in overtime. Those four teams have a combined record of 74-22 (.770 winning %).
Of course, the losses were on the road–they didn’t have the support of their raucous home crowd. “I think the fan participation is great,” Davis said. “I love that name, ‘The Blue Zoo.’ Our students have been fantastic. I saw that they’re moving up to getting rated in the top 15 of 20 in student bodies in basketball.”
And they get it. MTSU has one of the largest student populations in Tennessee and it’s free for students to get in. Every college student loves free, especially if it’s a chance to see one of the best teams in college basketball. The Zoo has helped the Blue Raiders to a 14-0 mark at home this season, making them one of only five teams in the country with at least a 14-0 home record. Of the five remaining regular season games, only two are at home, where their average margin of victory is 22 points.
Kermit Davis is well aware of the home-court advantage at Middle Tennessee but also knows the importance of going on the road for true road games against top-notch teams early in the season. It gives the players a chance to see how they stack up with the country’s elite and where they need to improve, and it’s no wonder Davis has amassed 202 wins in 10+ seasons in Murfreesboro.
And it’s not looking like the Davis or his Blue Raiders will take their foot off the gas.