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The Morning Dish – Friday, December 9, 2016

December 9, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

Middle Tennessee State carved out a place in college basketball history in March when it posted one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history by knocking out Michigan State. This year’s Blue Raiders are not the same team as last year’s group, though.

They very well might be better.

For those wondering what MTSU has been up to since last season ended with a loss to Syracuse in the second round of the NCAAs, it’s time to take notice. Middle Tennessee is now 9-1 on this season after taking advantage of the chance to host an SEC school and posting a convincing 71-48 win over Vanderbilt. Giddy Potts scored 27 points and Reggie Upshaw and JaCorey Williams also were terrific, with the trio combining for 54 points to outscore the Commodores themselves.

There was nothing deceiving about the final margin either. Middle Tennessee treated Vandy the way a Big Ten squad treats a tired SWAC team in a guarantee game, steadily pulling away late in the first half and then stepping on the gas in the second half, running and dunking and frustrating the Commodores and blowing this wide open. If anything, the margin could’ve been even worse, with MTSU up 26 and still building the lead when coach Kermit Davis cleared the bench with two minutes left while Vandy coach Bryce Drew kept the starters in to apparently send a message to his team.

This is the Blue Raiders’ second resounding win over an SEC team this year, for MTSU also won at Mississippi by 77-62 just over a week ago, building a 29-point halftime lead. Middle also is the only team to defeat UNC Wilmington so far and has a collection of other decent wins, with its one loss coming to Tennessee State. The next two games are on the road at VCU and Belmont. Win both, and almost certainly this will be a team deserving of a spot in the top 25 rankings.

Kermit Davis’s teams are always enjoyable to watch, unselfish and in motion on offense and constantly mixing up the defense, including his signature 1-3-1 zone. His program also boasts a very strong graduation rate, another thing that makes MTSU easy to like.

Middle Tennessee State has made some noise in recent years with an at-large bid in 2013 (then out of the Sun Belt) along with the tourney win last year, and this year’s team may well be poised for more of the same. Getting to the NCAAs again out of improving Conference USA won’t be easy; at the same time it’s a league that’s long past due to have an at-large team come out of a group that also includes teams like UAB and Old Dominion. The Blue Raiders may well be good enough to do just that.

Side Dishes:

  • The always heated battle for bragging rights between Iowa and Iowa State went to the Hawkeyes for the first time in four years, by a 78-64 score in Iowa City. ISU has been the considerably better defensive team this year, but it was young Iowa-just 4-5 entering the game-playing with terrific energy at home and holding down the Cyclones while also shooting 47.3% in a solid win. Iowa lost to Nebraska-Omaha five days ago; Iowa State defeated Omaha two days later by 44 points. With the Hawkeyes, that’s youth personified.
  • The most intriguing game coming into the night was maybe even more than expected. Texas-Arlington went to 12th-ranked Saint Mary’s and not just came out with a win, but controlled the game in a 65-51 conquest of the Gaels. UTA shut down SMC’s offense, holding the hosts to 30.2% shooting and forcing 15 turnovers. The Mavericks got off to a slow start but are undeniably warming up, with wins at Texas and Saint Mary’s now this year to go with those oft-mentioned victories at Ohio State and Memphis last year.
  • St. John’s ran away from Fordham in the second half for a 90-62 win. Shamorie Ponds threatened a triple-double, finishing with 26 points, seven boards and nine assists.
  • NCAA Tournament winners a year ago Yale and Arkansas-Little Rock won, with the Bulldogs successful at Sacred Heart 66-52 while UALR pulled away from Arkansas-Pine Bluff 66-52 behind a career-high 21 points by Maurius Hill.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • On a very quiet night, perhaps the best game is Georgia Southern at Minnesota (9 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network). The Eagles are a solid, experienced team from the Sun Belt that nearly won at N.C. State and Florida Gulf Coast. The Golden Gophers should handle GSU at home, but must be at attention or this has trap written all over it.
  • About FGCU, the Eagles host disappointing Siena, a talented and dangerous team that even coach Jimmy Patsos is alluding to off-court issues possibly affecting the on-court product.
  • Longwood goes to Creighton in front of the Fox Sports 1 cameras (7:30 p.m.).
  • Wake Forest plays ‘at’ UNC Greensboro, as ACC teams continue to milk the Spartans for advantageous games technically on the road but played at a longtime home of the ACC Tournament.
  • Columbia is at Navy and Hartford goes to Boston College to make up the other games between two D-I schools.

Enjoy your Friday and have a great weekend.

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