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Better Know an NCAA Tournament Opponent: The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

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Every year, tens of teams make the NCAA Tournament, many from schools you vaguely remember. Let's get up to speed on the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of pundits have the Spartans penciled in for a Final Four berth or, lord forbid, an NCAA title. However, every journey begins with a single step, and MSU's journey to a Championship will begin with the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Let's learn more about MTSU together!

Have the Spartans ever played MTSU before?

Once, back in the1977-1978 season. The Spartans won 72-51.

How did MTSU get to the NCAA Tournament?

For 13 seeds and lower ranked teams, the route to the tourney almost always involve winning the conference tournament. Sure enough, that's how the Blue Raiders got in, winning the Conference USA tournament as a 2 seed, defeating 1 seed Old Dominion 55-53 in the final.

Where is Middle Tennessee State?

Murfreesboro, about 10 miles southeast of Nashville. Yes, that qualifies Murfreesboro to be in Middle Tennessee.

What's MTSU's biggest strength?

The three. There's only one player in the NCAA Tournament who's a better three-point shooter than Bryn Forbes, and that's Giddy Potts of MTSU, a 6'2" sophomore who's made 50% of his threes (70-140) this season. Their other main shooter, 6'8" senior forward Darnell Harris, shoots 40% (54-135) from three. Together, they make 38.9% of their shots behind the arc, good for 19th in D1 and 7th among NCAA Tournament teams.

They've also been good at keeping opponents off the offensive boards; they only allow teams to get 25.5% of their misses, also good for 19th in D1.

So if you've just told me about their strengths, their weaknesses must be coming next.

Absolutely! They don't get to the free throw line fairly often (they shoot about 1 free throw for every 3 field goals they attempt, which is about average in D1), but that can be construed as a good thing. Only Harvard and Florida A&M among D1 teams had a worse free throw percentage than MTSU this season, and MTSU's free throw percentage of 60.7% easily puts them last among all teams in the tournament.

They also foul a lot on defense, as opponents have a 42.8 FTA/FGA rate against them (298th in D1). If this game is called tightly, one would think it would benefit MSU.

What are MTSU's biggest wins of the season?

If we're going by "name" opponents, then it would be over 209th KenPom ranked team Auburn in Nashville in December. If we're going by sheer value, then their two wins over 111th in KenPom Old Dominion would qualify, as MTSU beat them on the road and on a neutral site.

Have the Blue Raiders played tough teams this year?

Just two in the KenPom top 100: they played admirably against 35th ranked VCU at home in a 62-56 loss, and they lost 65-61 to South Dakota St. in Sioux Falls for what basically amounted to a road game.

So...why the "Blue Raiders" nickname?

It was coined by an MTSU football player in 1934, and before that they were called the "Normalites", "Teachers", and "Pedagogues". Before you judge those nicknames, remember at one point Michigan State was almost called the "Michigan Staters", save for the grace of an Lansing State-Journal editor who thought that nickname was too unwieldy.

Their mascot is Lightning, which is based on the winged horse Pegasus from Greek Mythology. How that translates to Blue Raiding...I'm not quite sure.

Who are the Blue Raiders' most famous alums?

George Clinton and Al Gore, but not the ones you're thinking of. George S. Clinton is most famous for writing the music for the Austin Powers movies, while Al Gore Sr. would one day give birth to Al Gore Jr., who you can thank for creating this wonderful internet which you're on currently.

Given its proximity to Nashville, a good number of famous MTSU alums are country singers, including Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, but Amy Lee of Evanescence (WAKE ME UP) went there for a while before dropping out.

As for athletes...hmm. I think Kerry Holcomb is the most famous one, but I could be wrong. Here's the Wikipedia page, so if you've got a better answer (I almost went with Mike Caldwell), debate about it in the comments.

Any other tidbits of knowledge?

Did you know that MTSU has a Concrete Industry Management degree? It's graduated over 700 students, so I guess you could say if you want to ROCK at MTSU, you know the degree for you!

We'll have more later in the week, but for now try to whittle away the time before Thursday and Friday by being as productive as possible.