Tough December slate for Blue Raiders

After finishing their first month of action 4-1, the Blue Raiders start one of the toughest December's in the country with a loss today on the road against a very good Akron team. Of the 8 games Middle Tennessee has lined up for December, 5 of them are expected to contend for an NCAA bid. Here's a look at how the Blue Raiders can categorize their remaining matchups for this big December schedule.

Should Win

Tennessee State, Dec. 18th
I don't think this game will necessarily be tough as far as matchups, but you can be it will be ruckus atmosphere in the Murph. TSU lost their coach from last season after he headed to Ohio to take over the job at Miami. The Tigers haven't really impressed this season thus far, and while I don't know how close this game will actually be, it should at least be entertaining for those in attendance.

Florida International, Dec. 29th
I like what FIU has done in hiring Richard Pitino to lead their program into the Conference USA. However, the talent isn't necessarily there just yet to get excited about this game. The Golden Panthers are 2-3 on the year, and I wouldn't expect their record to be much better come the end of December.

Tough Test

UAB, Dec. 5th
The Blue Raiders have struggled with the Blazers in recent years, but firing former coach Mike Davis will have a bigger impact than some think. UAB is 4-4 on the season with bad losses to teams like Texas Christian and Illinois State.

The biggest stat for this game with Middle will be field goal percentage. The Blue Raiders are one of the better defensive teams in the country when it comes to forcing teams into difficult shot selection. Middle Tennessee's defense should win them this game.

at Belmont, Dec. 13th
The Bruins have made a solid move to the OVC starting this season, and have looked good thus far. Belmont has a win at Stanford 70-62, and lost to VCU by just 10 on the road. Rick Byrd's teams are always efficient, and they continue that trend this season ranking in the top 75 in points scored, assists, and field goal percentage per game.

The key to a Blue Raider victory here will be hitting the boards. Middle can dominate the boards on any given night, and they'll have a prime opportunity to do that against Belmont, who currently ranks 319th in the country on the boards.

Statement Game

Ole Miss, Dec. 8th
Middle got a huge win against Ole Miss last season, and it was honestly one of the only reasons the Blue Raiders had a decent win on their schedule. This year's Rebel team should be much improved, thanks to the addition of Marshall Henderson to their lineup. Henderson was the NJCAA National Player of the Year last season, and has started the first six games of the season averaging 17 points a game and shooting 34% from behind the arc. I fully expect the Rebels to finish in the top 3 or 4 teams in the SEC this season, and a win against this team would be a nice feather in the cap of Middle's resume.

Vanderbilt, Dec. 21st
When you consider last season's matchup between these two teams, you'd expect another classic battle between the two. However, on paper the Blue Raiders should roll in this game. Vanderbilt lost a ton of talent from last season, and we all know what Middle has in depth. This is a statement game for Kermit and company because they can send a message. Not only would the appeal of beating an SEC opponent be nice, but knocking off a respected program like Vandy has can only boost Middle's reputation to the NCAA Selection Committee.

North Texas, December 31
Potentially the biggest game in December comes at the very end. Plain and simple, this game is huge for a number of reasons. North Texas hasn't looked overly impressive this season, and that can probably be credited to the change at head coach. Nevertheless, this team has a ton of talent, and should roll through the Sun Belt. Tony Micthell is the only NBA first-rounder in the Sun Belt, and stopping him will be key for the Blue Raiders to head into 2013 with a win.

Overall, if the Blue Raiders can go 5-2 for the rest of the month, consider it a success. While their record won't be what was last season through the first two months, the difficulty of scheduling will make all the difference come NCAA selection time.

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