Every season there are deserving teams from weaker conferences in which the conference only gets one bid in the NCAA tournament and the team is required to win the conference tournament. These teams end up in the NIT and, although they play well, do not get the experience, opportunity or recognition that playing in the NCAA tournament brings. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders were one of these teams last year.
A solid season winning the regular season conference title that should have led to an NCAA tournament berth was thrown away after a disappointing early Sunbelt tournament loss to Arkansas State sending the Blue Raiders to the NIT.
In the NIT last year, MTSU made it to the quarter-finals after a win against Tennessee, only to lose in a game they should have won to eventual runners up, the Minnesota Gophers. However, this year is different. Even if the Blue Raiders lose their conference tournament, they should be March Madness Bound.
It’s a bold prediction to make, but I expect MTSU to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. This team is capable of beating talented opposition – look at the wins against the Ole Miss Rebels, Vanderbilt Commodores, and UCF Knights. The Blue Raiders even held their own against the Florida Gators for ¾ of a game – much longer than many tournament bound teams would be able to do.
The brothers Tweety and Marcos Knight are another level of talent that could play in any conference in the country and can take MTSU far beyond the first round of the tournament. MTSU has major-conference talent on its roster.
This is one team that you do not want to have scheduled in the first round of the tournament. The Blue Raiders have every opportunity to be the next VCU or Butler and make a deep run in the tournament.
Now, as the landscape of almost every conference is changing, MTSU is moving to Conference USA – a great NCAA tournament run in their last season as a member of the Sunbelt could give the Blue Raiders the perfect opportunity to recruit and succeed in their first year in the new conference.