Minnesota earned a 5 seed, Middle Tennessee a 12 seed. If the Blue Raiders are ranked 26th and Minnesota 27th in the polls how did this happen? And how was Wisconsin an eight seed while Minnesota a feed seed?
Let’s start with non conference-strength of schedule. Minnesota’s ranked 27th, Wisconsin’s ranked 276. Ouch. Minnesota RPI as a 20, Wisconsin 36. Minnesota’s strength of schedule was a 20, Wisconsin 71. That doesn’t quite mean they should be separated by three spots but it does tell a story.
Middle Tennessee at one point late in the year had a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked 15th. They also had an RPI of 35 helped by their 30-4 record but their strength of schedule went down in Conference USA league play which drug them down seed wise. That and losses to Tennessee State and Georgia State. That said the Blue Raiders beat NCAA Tournament bound Vanderbilt 71-48 where as Minnesota beat Vandy by four.
Middle Tennessee Head Coach Kermit Davis is in his 15th season at Middle Tennessee and has amassed a 306-179 record. In his stops at Idaho (twice), Texas A&M, and Middle Tennessee, Davis has put together a career record of 443-254. In the last five years Davis has led Middle Tennessee to 153 wins which is more wins than any other program in Tennessee (including Tennessee, Vandy, Memphis, Belmont, and seven others).
Defensively the Blue Raiders are outstanding. They held CUSA opponents to 63 points per game and have led or been second in league defense the last four years. In the last four years Middle Tennessee is 60-5 when scoring 70 or more points so that’s the number to remember for the Gopher defense. The Blue Raiders are also 24-2 when leading at halftime and have only given up one lead with five or less minutes to go.
In terms of CUSA rank Middle Tennessee was first in field goal percentage and second in rebounding margin. Defensively they led the league with seven steals a game, they allowed only 32 percent of threes to drop, and they were best in turnover margin.
CUSA Player of the year JaCorey Williams led the Blue Raiders in scoring at 17.3 points per game shooting 54 percent from the floor on his 13-14 field goal attempts a game. Williams has only made two threes all season but he’s at the foul line for a couple trips a night shooting 71 percent. Williams also leads the team with 7.3 rebounds a game grabbing a couple offensive boards a night (plays 30 minutes a night).
Last year’s NCAA Tournament hero Giddy Potts is scoring 15.8 points per contest shooting over 39 percent at the arc and 49 percent overall. Half of the Potts attempts will come at the arc, he’s also an 81 percent foul shooter. Potts also grabs 5.5 boards a game from his guard position.
The team leader in minutes played is Reggie Upshaw (31 a game). As a 6-foot-8 frontcourt player Upshaw leads the team in blocks, is second in boards (just under seven), is second on the team in assists, and he scores 14.5 points a game too. Upshaw is a good foul shooter (72 percent), makes 52 percent of his 10-11 attempts a game, and will shoot three three-pointers a contest (makes one of three).
Freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon, the former high school and AAU teammate of Eric Curry, leads the Blue Raiders in assists with about 3.5 a night. He’s a 2.5 to 1 assist to turnover ratio player. Dixon scores almost six points a game but he doesn’t shoot much taking about two threes a contest (39 percent) and about five shots total.
The loss of Akeem Springs for Minnesota is a starter that not only was their leader and best perimeter defender, but their best three point weapon at just under 37 percent. Akeem’s ten points a game is something that needs to be replaced but his leadership and defensive work is hard to put a number on (outside of the 0-1 record without him).
How did Tennessee State beat Middle Tennessee? They got to the rim. Tennessee State shot 30 foul shots, took just eight threes, and made 24 of 47 field goals. They also won the rebounding battle vs the Blue Raiders. Georgia State beat them by hitting half of their threes, rebounding evenly, and limiting Upshaw (took three shots). UTEP also limited Upshaw (scoreless on three shots) when they beat Middle Tennessee. All of those teams still turned the ball over despite winning. VCU did not and their victory of 80-77 happened because they had just five turnoers.