NCAA Tournament 2017: Middle Tennessee State could be most dangerous 12 seed yet

Sporting News

Middle Tennessee didn't pull off your typical 5-12 upset. It has to be an upset first for that to happen.

The Blue Raiders entered the game as a 1.5-point favorite on Odds Shark and took care of business. No. 12 MTSU beatNo. 5 Minnesota 81-72 in the first round of the South Region in the NCAA men's basketball tournament Thursday. The Blue Raiders will face No. 4 seed Butler on Saturday.

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You knew which way the game was going by the time Tyrik Dixon hit a 3-pointer with 15:37 remaining that opened up a 14-point lead for MTSU. The Blue Raiders entered the tournament with a 30-4 record and a 17-1 mark in Conference USA. Reggie Upshaw led four double-figure scorers with 19 points and could be the next Cinderella darling player.

This is also the same team that knocked outMichigan State in a 2-15 matchup in last year's tournament. Why are they a No. 12 seed this year? SN's Mike DeCourcy answered that question on March 1 with this:

"They defeated Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, both teams with winning records in the SEC, and Ohio Valley leader Belmont. It's not that simple, though, because the NCAA selection committee never has truly trusted the simplicity of a won-lost record."

Sometimes it really is that simple. The Blue Raiders shouldn't be a No. 12 seed, but now that they are they could be the most dangerous No. 12 seed this tournament has seen in a long time. It's the upset-special seed everybody loves anyway, and those teams stick out with those big win totals.

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That's a trend with No. 12 seeds that have won in the first round this decade. Cornell entered the tournament with a 27-4 record in 2010. Richmond (27-7) in 2011, VCU (28-6) in 2012, Stephen F. Austin (31-2) in 2014 and Arkansas-Little Rock (29-3) and Yale (22-6) in 2016 can tell similar stories. Cornell and Richmond advanced to the Sweet 16 along with fellow No. 12 seed Oregon, a power conference school, in 2013.


MTSU's JaCorey Williams (Getty Images)

Middle Tennessee State might be built to buck another trend. No. 12 seeds already have a high conversion rate into Sweet 16 teams once they win their first game. They have a 20-26 record in the second round since 1985. The Blue Raiders certainly can hang with Butler, a school that made its first Sweet 16 of the expanded bracket in 2003 as, you guessed it, a No. 12 seed.

MORE: Three reasons Minnesota lost to MTSU

If Middle Tennessee State wins there, then it would have the opportunity to take the next step. Only one No. 12 seed, Missouri in 2002, has gotten to the Elite Eight.

Nobody has made the Final Four. Nobody has beaten a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16. Those are the kinds of opportunities that could be in store for Middle Tennessee with one more victory.

We've seen a No. 12 seed take a No. 1 to the limit,with Ball State and UNLV in a 69-67 nail-biter in 1990. This No. 12 seed can take those next steps over the next few days. We might not know what to call it. Just don't call it an upset yet.

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"We think we belong on the national stage," MTSU coach Kermit Davis said afterward on the TNT telecast.

Did we mention the South Region semifinals are in Memphis? That stage would be quite fitting if the Blue Raiders can win one more.

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