Two of the last four team that made it into the NCAA Tournament are going to square off in the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday night, where the St. Mary’s Gaels will face the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.
The Gaels really didn’t have a single great victory this year, as their only RPI Top 50 win was a home game against the then-struggling Creighton Blue Jays. Many aren’t exactly optimistic about their chances of advancing in the dance, but most also realize that if this gets going, it can really shoot the daylights out of the ball. It wasn’t a mistake that this team averaged 73.5 points per game this season. G Matthew Dellavedova has had himself a heck of a senior season. He was relatively quiet down the stretch, but he still averaged 15.8 points and 6.4 assists per game this season. G Stephen Holt is a solid scorer as well, but the man that has come on strong at the end of the year has been F Brad Waldow. Waldow put up 23 points and pulled down 16 boards against the San Diego Toreros in the win that probably kept St. Mary’s in the dance, and he is now averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 boards per night.
Hat’s off to the Selection Committee for letting Middle Tennessee State get into the field of 68. The Blue Raiders have now won 55 games over the course of the last two seasons, and they have proven that they deserve a chance to tussle with the big boys. If this one is lost, it might be quite awhile before another team from the Sun Belt gets a chance to be an at large bid to the tourney, so the opportunity here is huge. These Blue Raiders are undersized, but they play very quickly, and they rotate men in and out of the lineup at virtually every stoppage. Eleven players average at least seven minutes per game and none average more than 26, so if there is a team that is built for a tourney like this, this is it. G Marcos Knight was the only double digit scorer on this team though, and he averaged 12.5 points per game. The Blue Raiders held teams down to just 57.8 points per game this year, thanks in large part to their tremendous half court defense.
The Blue Raiders would be the highest RPI team that the Gaels have beaten all year long, and we just don’t think that it is going to happen. MTSU has been blessed with a great opportunity to play in the tourney, and it proved early in the year that it could beat a team just like this one (Ole Miss). Take the points for sure on the opening day of the dance. Middle Tennessee State 68 – St. Mary’s 65
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.