Middle Tennessee State knocked off a higher-seeded Big Ten team in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, this time upending Minnesota 81–72 in Milwaukee. It wasn’t as unexpected as last year’s win as a No. 15 seed over No. 2 seed Michigan State, with the 12th-seeded Blue Raiders actually slight favorites over the fifth-seeded Gophers in betting establishments across the country by time the game tipped off, but it marked the fifth time that a school won at least one game as a double-digit seed in consecutive tournaments, and continued the 12-over-5 magic after two near-misses earlier in the day. Here’s how the Blue Raiders did it.
The Gophers controlled the action early, scoring the first seven points of the game, which forced a quick timeout from Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis and got the partisan crowd which had made the relatively short trip from Minnesota on its feet. When the Blue Raiders came out of the timeout, they ditched the man defense they had deployed the first few minutes, replacing it with a 1-3-1 zone, trapping ball-handlers at half court. After scoring those seven points in the first three minutes of the game, the Gophers went on a nine-minute drought and made just one-third of their field goal attempts the rest of the half. The Blue Raiders continued switching up their looks, also using a traditional 2-3 zone and going back to man to man. It was that first change to the 1-3-1, however, that first got Minnesota out of sorts.
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2. Foul trouble shortened a Minnesota rotation that was already missing one of its best players
Depth was always going to be an issue for the Gophers in the tournament, with Richard Pitino using a seven-man rotation all season. When Akeem Springs suffered a torn Achilles in the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers bench was essentially reduced to one man, meaning any sort of foul trouble could be their undoing. Reggie Lynch picked up two fouls in two seconds about halfway through the first half, forcing Pitino to lean on sixth man Eric Curry for the rest of the half. When Curry picked up his second foul with 3:20 remaining in the first half, the Gophers couldn’t afford to take too many chances up front. Within the first four minutes of the second half, Lynch, Curry and Jordan Murphy, who plays most of his minutes as a 4-man, all had three fouls. It should come as little surprise, then, that Middle Tennessee outrebounded Minnesota, 37–24, and held the Gophers to three second-chance points.
You definitely remember Giddy Potts from last year’s stunning upset of Michigan State. How could anyone forget that name? Potts was good when he was on the floor on Thursday, scoring 15 points, but foul trouble all afternoon limited him to 23 minutes. Despite Potts stealing the spotlight, it was actually Reggie Upshaw who led the Blue Raiders in scoring in the eighth 15-over-2 upset of all time, pouring in 21 points. Upshaw was at it again in the win over Minnesota, scoring 19 points while shooting 7 of 13 from the floor, and pulling down nine rebounds. When Minnesota went on a 9–0 run to cut the Blue Raiders lead to four points with just less than seven minutes remaining, getting the heavy Minnesota crowd at the Bradley Center back into the game, Upshaw drilled a three from the corner to give his team some breathing room. Minnesota never got it closer than six points the rest of the way.