Middle Tennessee vs. Tennessee preview

The opening round of the NIT seemed to be a warm-up for the two in-state foes. Middle Tennessee has a chance to prove their worth as a basketball program on the national stage, and what would be better than doing it against an in-state rival? Maybe doing it against an in-state rival on their home floor? It won't be easy, but here's the keys to Middle getting that W Monday night.

Limit and Force Turnovers
Cuonzo Martin's brand of basketball is simple, run and force turnovers. However, this Tennessee team commits about 13 turnovers a game, and has a -2 turnover margin per game. Against Marshall, the Blue Raiders only forced 9 turnovers, and in a game that's sure to come down to the last possession, Middle has to make as many possessions for themselves as possible. Middle's half-court defense is very good, and if Tennessee will let the Blue Raiders get out and run like they like to, not only will this game be exciting to watch, Middle could benefit from it.

Dominate the Paint
Marshall was one of the nation's best rebounding teams, and easily one of the best that Middle has seen all season, and the Blue Raiders out-rebounded them. Hitting the glass was huge against Marshall, and it's going to be equally important against Tennessee. While Tennessee isn't as dominate of a team on the glass, Middle has to be able to control the glass, especially on the road.

Dominating the paint not only means hitting the boards, but being able to play from inside, out will give the Blue Raiders the advantage. Tennessee only has one or two legitimate inside scorers, so using the paint often, could force the Vols into using more depth than they want to.

Dendy Dominating Stokes
It's one matchup that should dictate the game – Laron Dendy and Jarnell Stokes. It's a senior against a freshman, both who completely change the game for their teams. Its fair to say Stokes is the only reason Tennessee is in the NIT, and Dendy a big reason the Blue Raiders have had the success this year. Dendy is probably the better shooter of the two, but that's probably the only thing that separates the two in this match-up. If Middle is going to win this one, Dendy HAS to win this matchup.

The Other Matchup
While Dendy and Stokes are the obvious keys to both teams victories, there's another matchup that I think might be just as important – Raymond Cintron and Skylar McBee. These two sharpshooters both average above 40 percent from behind the arc, and their play in Monday's game is going to be huge. It's fair to say that each player will be able to knock down numerous three's, but I'll predict, between these two, the player with the most made, will win the game.

Stay tuned to BlueRaiderZone for more exclusive coverage of Middle Tennessee athletics.

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