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MT is whooping it up!
How long has it been since Middle Tennessee State’s men’s basketball team played in the NCAA Tournament?
So long that current Blue Raider Kerry Hammonds Jr.’s father was on the last MTSU team to make the tournament field.
So long ago that none of the current Blue Raiders players were even born.
So long ago the Blue Raiders have had three coaches since Bruce Stewart’s 1989 team upset Florida State in the tournament.
David Farrar couldn’t do it. Neither could Randy Wiel. It has taken current coach Kermit Davis 10 years to take them back to the Big Dance.
But tonight in Dayton, Ohio, the Blue Raiders take on Saint Mary’s of California in one of four play-in games to be played Tuesday and Wednesday. Both teams are vying for an 11 seed in the Midwest Regional. The winner will play 6-seed Memphis at Auburn Hills, Mich.
The at-large bid didn’t come without Raider Nation sweating it out. Having lost to Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference semi-finals, MTSU had to rely on its regular season credentials to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. It’s always a risky proposition.
They posted a 28-5 record, including a 19-1 Sun Belt regular season championship. Their RPI rating is 29. Their strength of non-conference schedule is sixth.
The three non-conference games they lost were to Florida, Akron and Belmont. All three teams won their conference regular season championships and all three were road games for MTSU.
Also factored in their favor was the fact that no team has ever won 28 games and been excluded from the NCAA Tournament.
But without the automatic bid, they had to wait a week to learn their fate. The days grew longer. The palms were clammy.
Davis gave a tweet out to fellow college coaches whose teams seek publicity.
He told them the best way he knew to get national attention was to become a bubble team. Then you will be talked about for a solid week before Selection Sunday.
MTSU drew a tough first game against Saint Mary’s, a California school whose team is one of the top offensive teams in the country. They are guard oriented, which is always a plus in the postseason.
But MTSU is deep at every position. They play a lot of players and keep the defensive pressure turned up, not worried about incurring foul trouble.
And, if they should defeat Saint Mary’s, the Blue Raiders will find themselves playing Thursday against 6-seed Memphis, led by former All-State high school guard Joe Jackson. Not the shoeless one.
Unlike a lot of NCAA Tournaments, there doesn’t seem to be a dominant team, or teams, in this field.
While MTSU is one of eight teams playing in the First Four, it should take notice and use it as inspiration.
In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth and Coach Shaka Smart made it from the First Four to the Final Four. If Dayton was golden for VCU, why not MTSU? It’s been done before.
Davis talked before heading to the conference tournament about how his team went through the season with only one conference loss.
“Our motto has been that we are re-creating our identity every day – day to day, practice to practice, week to week," Davis said.
“This is going to be hectic. It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s just as quick for Saint Mary’s."