No one expected Minnesota to be this good at the start of the season. Not only did they miss the NCAA Tournament and NIT last year, but they only won eight games. A college program doesn’t usually make this kind of turnaround unless they had a top recruiting class, which the Golden Gophers did not have.
Middle Tennessee dominated in Conference USA. They would have probably received an at-large bid if they failed to win the conference tournament.
Can Middle Tennessee pull off another upset?
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The Minnesota Golden Gophers resurrected their program in just one year. Head coach Richard Pitino was on the hot seat after finishing 8-23 in 2016. Well, he improved by 16 wins thanks to their roster maturing and developing over the offseason. Signing an in-state player like Amir Coffey helped a lot as well. Minnesota had a pretty cake non-conference schedule, so maybe they padded their win total early. They still finished in fourth place in the Big Ten regular season.
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders come into this year’s NCAA Tournament as an underdog once again. They knocked off #2 Michigan State as a #15 seed last year. I would argue that this team has been better this season. They scorched the rest of the Conference USA and are a dark horse to have a little run thanks to a favorable area of the South Region’s bracket. They will need big games from JaCorey Williams, Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw, their Big Three. Arkansas-transfer Williams is just one of the many reasons why this year’s squad is better.
As good as Minnesota was this season and they deserve all the praise for turning their program around, I have to go with Middle Tennessee in this game. They actually play more of a Big Ten-style offense and are a good defensive team. I think they will pull off an upset in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
Prediction: #12 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.