Blue Raiders go cold in Hot Springs

Coming into the Sun Belt tournament this year there were high hopes for both the men and women's teams. Both were number one seeds and had every reason to think they would come away from the trip conference champs and headed to NCAA tournament play.

The men went throughout conference play suffering only two losses and were regarded as clearly the best team in the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders were unable to live up to their hype and would fall in a heartbreaker to Arkansas State in their first game.

Unfortunately, this one-and-done is more than likely going to cost Middle Tennessee a spot in the big dance and will lead to a two or three seed in the NIT. Coming off the best regular season in school history was somehow able to lead to one of the biggest let downs in school history as well.

Middle had a chance to capture it first tournament appearance since the Reagan administration and couldn't do it. As I said in my tournament preview if it comes down to free throws it scares me. It did and my fears came true. However, if the squad can make a strong run in the NIT then all will not be lost. Kermit has to get his guys focused and ready to play. The way his team answers in the NIT will show me a lot about Kermit as a coach.

Just like the men, the Lady Raiders were expected to breeze through their tournament. They were perfect in-conference during the regular season and were coming in riding an 18-game winning streak. The Lady Raiders would show more on the court than their counterparts, by making it to the championship game. After finding themselves down 22 against UALR in the championship game, the Lady Raiders would pick it up and make it interesting before eventually taking the lead. Just like the men, free throws would cost the Lady Raiders.

Kortni Jones would be fouled on a 3-pointer with eight secondsleft in a tied game. She was only able to convert two allowing the Lady Trojans to run down court and hit a buzzer beater sending it to overtime. I can't help but think if she makes it a three-point game there is no way this game continues. Middle Tennessee would lose by one in OT allowing UALR to repeat as conference champs.

The Lady Raiders fair much better than the men when it comes to making the big dance. They will receive an at large bid, how could they not? Their resume includes a 26-6 record (16-0) as well as a marquee win against then number six Kentucky. ESPN had them as a nine seed in current bracketology before the loss; I see Coach Insell and squaddropping to a 13 or 14 seed.

Both seasons were great for Middle Tennessee basketball, but did not end the way anyone hoped. For the men they need to make a deep run in the NIT, and I think they can if they show up and play their game.

For the women they need to finally get to the field of 32, something I think is very possible if, like the men, they play to their skill level.

It's hard not to think what more these seasons could have been had there been no trip to Hot Springs.

Make sure to stay tuned to BlueRaiderZone.com for more on Middle Tennessee's post-season play in the coming weeks!

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