How much does this season’s Middle Tennessee team have in common with the Drexel Dragons of a season ago?
In the aftermath of the Blue Raiders’ 61-57 loss to Florida International in the semifinals of the Sun Belt conference tournament, Middle Tennessee (28-5, 19-1) fans are hoping for a Selection Sunday fate better than Drexel’s from a season ago.
Deric Hill scored 16 points and Cameron Bell added 15 for FIU, who will play for a trip to the NCAA tournament in the first season of Richard Pitino’s tenure as head coach. And given where the program was under Isiah Thomas that’s an incredible achievement for FIU.
But the question now is whether or not the Sun Belt can send two teams to the NCAA tournament, with a Middle Tennessee team that dominated the league during the regular season being the recipient of an at-large bid. That discussion likely requires a look back at last year’s Drexel squad.
Drexel was 27-6 on Selection Sunday following a loss to VCU in the title game of the CAA tournament. With an RPI of 66 and an overall strength of schedule of 189 the Dragons found themselves on the outside looking in. Drexel went 1-1 in games against RPI Top 50 teams and 5-3 against teams ranked between 51 and 100.
By comparison Middle Tennessee has an RPI of 24 and an overall strength of schedule of 128. But even with a far better non-conference strength of schedule they’ve got no RPI Top 50 wins and just two wins against teams ranked between 51 and 100 (Ole Miss and UCF). With two fewer losses to teams ranked between 101 and 200 (one) than that Drexel team (three), Middle Tennessee may be in a better spot than the Dragons were.
But like Drexel the Blue Raiders find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to watch other bubble teams continue to play, and hope the selection committee has seen enough of them on TV (or in person) to have a good idea of how talented they are.
Middle Tennessee has just one double-figure scorer (forward Marcos Knight – 11.9 ppg) but they get the job done with balance (six other players average between 5.3 and 9.7 points per game) and defense. With ten players averaging double-digit minutes the Blue Raiders limit opponents to 39.2% shooting, and their adjusted defensive efficiency (88.4) ranks 15th nationally according to kenpom.com.
Unfortunately this is life for teams in one-bid leagues, something Middle Tennessee is all too familiar with after missing out on the NCAA tournament last season after winning 26 games and losing in the Sun Belt quarterfinals. Will they get a better result this time around? The Blue Raiders can only sit around and watch, hoping for a different result.