St. Mary’s knocked off Middle Tennessee State 67-54 in the at-large portion of Tuesday’s play-in games, drubbing Kermit Davis’ and making the Sun Belt regular season champs look like they belonged in the NIT.
The intriguing part about this matchup is that it pitted two teams from mid-major leagues that had profiles that were more-or-less empty. Neither the Gaels nor the Blue Raiders put together the kind of overall resume that, in a typical year, would have deserved consideration for an at-large bid. MTSU had one top 100 win — Ole Miss at home, of all teams — and the Gaels had just a single top 50 win — Creighton at home in February, when the Bluejays were struggling. They both got beat up on a lot of mediocre competition and got smacked around by a lot of good teams.
And what we got on Tuesday, based off of the reaction on my twitter feed, was validation that the Blue Raiders didn’t belong in the dance. Proof that Tennessee or Alabama or Maryland deserved to get that final at-large bid over them.
Which is absurd.
Look, if you don’t think that MTSU belonged in the NCAA tournament this season, you have every right to that opinion. If you valued Tennessee’s profile more, you’re certainly not wrong. If you think that Maryland’s two wins over Duke were the difference-maker when everyone else was nothing but dreck, than you have a point that I actually kind of agree with.
I wanted to see MTSU in the tournament, so I was happy they got in. That doesn’t mean I 100% believe they deserved it.
But I also saw MTSU play a number of times this year. I saw them beat Ole Miss. I watched them at Belmont. I saw pieces of games throughout league play, and I saw their first two games in the conference tournaments. I know the Blue Raiders are better than they showed tonight. They just picked the worst time to have an awful showing.
And frankly, much of that had to do with the play of Matthew Dellavedova. He finished with 22 points, six boards and four assists, hitting 5-7 from three and seamlessly adjusting during MTSU’s second half run, when they doubled him hard off of every ball-screen. He was terrific, as he’s been all season long, and when he plays that way, the Gaels are tough to beat. There’s a reason they sit at 22nd in Kenpom’s rankings.
It was impressive enough that I’m beginning to feel good about picking Memphis to lose on Thursday.
Anyway, my point is that one performance shouldn’t be enough for you to form an opinion on MTSU.
Someone had to get that final bubble spot. Just because the Blue Raiders played poorly doesn’t mean Tennessee or Maryland or Virginia would have won. The Vols scored 74 total points in games at Georgetown and Virginia in the span of five days. Maryland was swept by Florida State and lost at BC and Georgia Tech in late February. Virginia had eight awful losses, including Delaware, George Mason and Old Dominion.
There’s no guarantee the good version of those three teams would have shown up if they got the at-large bid.
And if Maryland had been smacked around by St. Mary’s tonight, we’d be having this same discussion.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.