The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State don’t invoke much excitement with a majority of the college basketball community.
Only two players from the 24,000-student university in the thriving metropolis of Murfreesboro have ever graced a court in the NBA. Warren Kidd was the most recent, scoring 3.6 points and grabbing 3.4 rebounds over 68 games in 1994 for the Philadelphia 76ers. He never played another game after that.
MTSU’s made the NCAA tournament just seven times in their history, having won twice in nine games. They actually made the Big Dance last season, but lost to St. Mary’s in the First Four. So, they were in it, but they weren’t really in it.
When they made it there last March, it took a 28-5 record just to get them into what was previously known as the “play-in game.” This season, they’re 20-7, and at 10-2, tied for first place in Conference USA. However, there are four scheduled games left in addition to their conference tournament. They could easily reach 25 wins, and probably should, but that likely won’t be enough.
Conference USA is top heavy. Southern Mississippi, Louisiana Tech, MTSU and UTEP are all tourney-worthy, or at least in the discussion. The 10 teams below them in the standings are dreadful. Even at 9-3 in CUSA, Danny Manning‘s Tulsa team is just 14-12 overall with an RPI of 126, and that’s the highest of any team in CUSA outside those top four. That’s borderline mathematically impossible.
Which brings us back to the Blue Raiders. If they’re able to upset LA Tech on the road next week, MTSU will likely win CUSA outright. Even if they don’t, they’ll probably finish second. Yet, thanks to playing in a conference with 10 dogs, their RPI currently stands at 79th, and it probably won’t get any higher, even with a LA Tech win. Despite eight straight wins heading into the weekend, it may take five more in a row to make it to the Promised Land.
They only have themselves to blame for a lot of it. They scheduled two non-Division I teams, and lost all four of the non-conference games they had against top competition. Florida, Cincinnati and Mississippi all throttled the Blue Raiders, while MTSU’s only decent home game turned into a 12-point loss to NCAA tourney darling Belmont. Even one win against that foursome would’ve opened some eyes of the Tournament Selection Committee. Instead, without a conference championship, they’re gonna head into Selection Sunday hoping a lucky leprechaun is looking down on them.
This time, however, I don’t see a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.