NCAA tournament primer: MTSU

Record: 28-5, 19-1 Sun Belt
RPI: 28
Coach: Kermit Davis, 10 seasons, 1st NCAA appearance
Last NCAA tournament appearance: Lost to Virginia 104-88 in second round (1989)
Notable wins: Ole Miss, Central Florida, Vanderbilt, UAB

Key Player 

Senior guard Bruce Massey, the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a junior college transfer, grew quickly to become the heart and soul of the Blue Raiders.  Always drawing the top defensive assignments, he isn’t asked to score a lot, but he has also come up big offensively in big games. He notched a career-high 20 points in the NIT victory last season at Tennessee and a season-high 17 points in this season’s win over Vanderbilt. He led the Sun Belt with a 1.9 assists-to-turnover ratio. But it is Massey who heads a relentless defensive onslaught that is ranked 134th in 3-goal percentage defense (29.5 percent) and 20th nationally in efficiency.

X-Factor 

The Blue Raiders feature the second-most experienced roster in the country, but also the deepest bench as well. They currently have nine players averaging at least 12 minutes per game. In fact, Middle Tennessee’s bench has outscored opponents in all but two games this season, owning a 974-466 scoring advantage, which translates to an average of 39.6 points per game compared to the opposition’s 14.1. In a win at Troy, the bench scored a season-high 55 points. Four non-starters have come off the bench to score career highs this season. In all, the roster features 13 juniors and seniors compared to four freshmen and sophomores. 

First opponent 

Saint Mary’s, runner-up regular season and in the league tournament of the West Coast Conference to No. 1 seed Gonzaga, features one of the most talented point guards in the country in senior Matthew Dellavedova. For the second year in a row, he is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award that honors the best point guard in the country. The native Australian is the Gaels’ all-time leader in scoring, assists, 3-point field goals, games played and free throw shooting. He was also the youngest member of the Australian National Team that advanced to the quarterfinals at the 2012 London Olympic Games. It is the second-straight trip and third in four years to the NCAA tourney by Saint Mary’s. 

Did you know

Sun Belt coach of the year Kermit Davis, son of former Mississippi State coach Kermit Davis Sr., and Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett were members of the Idaho coaching staff of Tim Floyd, the former Chicago Bulls and current UTEP coach, for during the 1986-87 season. Also on the staff was Larry Eustachy, now coach at Colorado State.