Making Middle's case

Today, we all thought the Blue Raiders would be playing for their first bid into the NCAA tournament in 22 years. Believe it or not, Middle is still on the NCAA Tournament Bubble. It's a slim chance and a number of things would really have to go right, but Middle can still make the NCAAs. Don't believe me, Blue Raider faithful? Be prepared to be convinced.

First, let's review Middle Tennessee's resume:

Middle Tennessee
Record 24-6
RPI Rank59
Strength of Schedule185
Record vs. RPI Top 100 (200)3-3 (13-4)
Record vs. Top 251-0
Key WinsOle Miss, Belmont, Akron, at UCLA


The Blue Raiders have a solid resume with the schedule they were given. Middle played four, possibly five NCAA tournament teams throughout the season, which is much better than many mid-majors. It is also is worth noting, Middle doesn't have the luxury that a Wichita State does, having a ranked team built into their schedule since they're in their conference. Also, the Blue Raiders have been right on the outside of the Top 25 all season. If Middle had cracked the Top-25 just once throughout the season, this would be a completely different conversation.

But we already know all that, here's five teams' resumes that are also on the bubble, but expected to be in.

Drexel, Colonial Conference
Record 27-5
RPI Rank63
Strength of Schedule225
Record vs. RPI Top 100 (200)4-2 (12-5)
Record vs. Top 250-0
Key WinsVCU


Let's begin with a team Middle will likely be fighting for a spot against. This team is considered an at-large bid. Both of these teams are in similar situations: mid-major teams with a really nice record who lost their conference tournament. The Blue Raiders have a better RPI, SOS, and more good wins. The only problem Middle might have with a team like Drexel, is they're 19-1 in their last 20 games, and the selection committee likes giving hot teams (like VCU last year) a chance to dance.

When it comes down to the numbers, it doesn't make any sense to skip the Blue Raiders for Drexel.

Mississippi State, SEC
Record 21-10
RPI Rank67
Strength of Schedule67
Record vs. RPI Top 100 (200)8-8 (15-10)
Record vs. Top 252-3
Key WinsVanderbilt, Tennessee


Decent resume overall by the Bulldogs this year, but Middle has the upper hand on a team with much more opportunity to prove themselves than the Blue Raiders did. The most surprising stat initially has to be Middle's RPI sitting above Mississippi State's. When a team in the conference like the Sun Belt can get such a high ranking, it's definitely something worth noting.

Also, Middle has a much better win percentage against the RPI's top 100. Sure Middle played half as many RPI-100 teams, but you can't fault their schedule. They took care of business during the regular season when they were supposed to win. Mississippi State also has losses against Akron and Ole Miss, both of whom Middle beat.

Washington, Pac-12
Record 21-9
RPI Rank55
Strength of Schedule82
Record vs. RPI Top 100 (200)4-8 (11-9)
Record vs. Top 250-2
Key WinsArizona, at Arizona


Washington is the number one seed in the Pac-12 tournament, and is currently considered in. I can't stress that enough. There's just a four spot difference between the Huskies and Blue Raiders in the RPI, and Middle has a much better record against the RPI top 100. The two teams only have two similar games – FAU and UCLA. Middle is 3-0 in those games, while Washington is 2-1.

The Pac-12 has definitely been a disappointment, but the selection committee likes to keep the major conferences involved in the Big Dance. If Washington were to bow out of the Pac-12 Tournament early (hopefully at the hands of UCLA), then Middle could get a boost up the bubble.

Tennessee, SEC
Record 18-13
RPI Rank75
Strength of Schedule33
Record vs. RPI Top 100 (200)7-9 (13-13)
Record vs. Top 253-6
Key WinsFlorida, at Florida, Vanderbilt, UConn


This is one of the resume comparisons I find the most compelling. Obviously the sting of missing the NCAAs would be bad, but if a late surging Tennessee team were to get into the tournament over Middle, it would hurt even worse. That said, let's compare.

Middle has the higher RPI and better overall record, partially because Tennessee played horribly for 75 percent of the season, and the other part because Middle took care of business when they were supposed to. Again, Tennessee has the better strength of schedule, but they weren't able to capitalize on it, winning less than half of their games against the RPI top 100.

Tennessee also has a few ugly losses. Losses against Oakland, Austin Peay, and College of Charleston don't help the Volunteers case much. Though they have made up for it with wins against Florida and UCONN.

The Vols are a hot team, and again, the selection committee tends to reward teams for getting hot at the right time. But if you take in the entire season, as you should, Middle has had the better year, and deserves a nod before Tennessee.

Iona, MAAC
Record 25-7
RPI Rank42
Strength of Schedule144
Record vs. RPI Top 100 (200)5-3 (13-5)
Record vs. Top 250-0
Key WinsMaryland, Nevada


Of all the teams listed, I think this comparison is the most telling for Middle. These two teams have very similar resumes, the main difference being Iona having a slight advantage in both RPI and SOS. However, Middle does have a few sexier wins, while Iona has only played two tournament teams all season in Purdue (who they didn't beat) and Nevada. Again, Middle has played four (maybe five) and has a 3-1 record against those teams.

Middle will get knocked because they lost two conference games, and didn't win their "easy" conference tournament, but let's take a look at Iona, a "lock" to make it to the tournament. Conference losses at home to Manhattan (RPI 153), at Siena (a 14-17 team in the MAAC), and Loyola MD (best loss they have) are much worse than the Blue Raider's two regular season conference losses at Denver (RPI 79) and Western Kentucky (playing in the conference championship game).

"Oh but Middle Tennessee lost in the first round of their conference tournament," you say? Iona didn't make it much farther. They were one and done, but for some reason are getting a pass.

Overview
The Blue Raiders have a shot to do what many people think is impossible, and get an at-large bid from a mid-major conference. Middle might end up being team number 69, but I think they'll be in the debate down to the wire.

Stay tuned to BlueRaiderZone.com for the absolute best coverage of Middle Tennessee athletics anywhere on the planet.

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