It’s an obvious statement but it has to be made–the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders need to win the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Hot Springs, Arkansas to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Kermit Davis knows this. “We are going in with an absolute passion to win the tournament because we understand that we can’t take anything for granted at our level,” Davis told The Tennessean.
By winning the league’s postseason championship, the Blue Raiders can take all the guess work out of it for both themselves and the committee. At-large bids are never a sure thing, especially for a mid-major. It’s basically a four-game season for the Blue Raiders, who look to extend their winning streak to 20 games.
Yes, the record speaks for itself–at 27-4 (19-1 Sun Belt), MTSU has the third-best winning percentage in Division I. They’ve won 16 in a row but know none of this matters unless they win the SBC Tournament. Add in the fact that they don’t have a top-50 win and an at-large is no certainty.
Thanks to a first-round bye, the Blue Raiders can sit back and wait to see how the brackets shake down and will take on the winner of Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas in the quarterfinals. MTSU swept the season series with both, defeating ULL by 14 and 22 while taking care of UNT by 17 and eight.
If the tournament goes chalk, which it rarely does, a semifinal matchup with No. 2 seed Arkansas State looms for the Blue Raiders. Arkansas State was the only team to defeat Middle Tennessee State in the regular season and shocked them in last year’s Sun Belt Tournament, when the No. 9 seed took down Davis’ squad.
The biggest issue the blue and white face is the fact that the tournament isn’t in Murfreesboro, where the Blue Raiders were 16-0. But that’s where the weaknesses end. Besides, they’ve won eight straight on the road and have the second-most road wins in the country (11).
The last thing they want it a repeat of last season’s flame out. They lost only two players from a year ago, both to graduation, so this team knows what’s at stake. A veteran-laden team with a deep bench is dangerous come tournament time and MTSU features both and should punch their ticket.
They’re clearly the best team in an underwhelming Sun Belt and should have no problem running the table, thus securing the league’s automatic bid sometime around 8:00 pm next Monday at the Summit Arena.