2014 NCAA Tournament Sleeper Team of the Week: Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Last season, the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders finished the regular season 28-5, but lost to the Florida International Golden Panthers in the Sun Belt Tournament. Because of how weak the Sun Belt Conference was, MTSU had to participate in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, where they lost to the St. Mary’s Gaels.
This season, MTSU has thankfully switched conferences and has a definite opportunity to win a Memphis-free Conference USA. Fortunately, as a member of C-USA, the Blue Raiders do not have to win the conference to make it to the NCAA Tournament as long as they win a few key non-conference games.
The Blue Raiders’ non-conference schedule has the feel of an NCAA Tournament-capable resume. They play tough games against the Florida Gators, Murray State Racers, Ole Miss Rebels and Cincinnati Bearcats. Florida struggled against the North Florida Ospreys already this season, and, if MTSU can shut down Casey Prather, they might be able to pull off the huge upset.
If the Raiders could win at least two of these games, they could easily be a bubble team at the end of the year depending on their conference play.
MTSU’s first season in C-USA is not going to be easy, but it is definitely winnable with the roster that they have. It’s only one game into the season, but five players scored at least 10 points in their first game. If Tweety Knight, Kerry Hammonds II and Neiko Hunter can be as effective defensively as they are offensively, the Blue Raiders will be extremely dangerous going forward.
Head Coach Kermit Davis is one of the most overlooked coaches in the country and could easily lead this MTSU team to become the next bracket-buster like VCU, Butler and Wichita State have been in the past. Even if this season is disappointing yet again, the future is extremely bright for MTSU Basketball.
Don’t sleep on the Blue Raiders, because MTSU is a 2014 NCAA Tournament-ready team with nothing to lose.