College Basketball: Can Middle Tennessee Still Make the NCAA Tournament?

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

Dec 21, 2012; Murfreesboro, TN, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders guard Marcos Knight (14) reacts after pulling down a rebound against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Bridgestone Arena. Middle Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 56-52. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It was only a matter of time before a top seed in a mid-major conference was upset in the conference tournament after dominating the regular season.

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (28-5, 19-1) were the class of the Sun Belt Conference all season until Sunday night. 

Coming into their semifinal matchup with Florida International at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Blue Raiders had a 17-game winning streak that dated back to Jan. 5. 

Middle Tennessee had won both regular season games against FIU and seemed poised its third game against FIU on Sunday night. However, that was not the case as the Blue Raiders fell to FIU and will now have to sit around and wait nervously for the next week on the bubble. 

Depending on who you ask, Middle Tennessee either has a case to make the NCAA tournament or it will have to end its season in the NIT. 

ESPN's Myron Medcalf summed up the situation in just a few words on Twitter last night. 

Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports was quick to compare the situation of Middle Tennessee to the one of Drexel last season. 

Patrick Stevens of USA Today had two opinions to share on the Blue Raiders' hopes of finding a spot in the final 68. 

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Middle Tennessee as one of his "last four out" teams.

If you take a look at the resume of Middle Tennessee, it has a quality win over fellow bubble team Ole Miss.

Three other wins that can be looked at in nonconference play are the ones that the Blue Raiders had over Vanderbilt, UAB and Central Florida. 

Two nonconference losses that hurt the tournament prospects of Middle Tennessee were the overtime defeat to Akron and loss to Belmont, even though both teams are amongst the best mid-major teams this season. 

The ideal situation for Middle Tennessee would be for the rest of the conference tournaments to end without any more surprises—something that is highly unlikely this season. 

The bubble teams that the Blue Raiders will have to keep an eye on this week will be La Salle, Boise State, Baylor, Virginia and the SEC trio of Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee. 

La Salle is staring a quarterfinal matchup with Butler straight in the eye at the Atlantic 10 tournament, while Boise State has a difficult game with San Diego State to open play in the Mountain West tournament.

In the ACC tournament, Middle Tennessee will be rooting for the winner of the NC State/Virginia Tech game to knock off Virginia in the quarterfinals and then for the winner of that game to lose to the Miami Hurricanes.

Yet another team that the Blue Raiders will have to cheer for is Oklahoma State, which plays Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals on Thursday. 

As for rooting interests at the SEC tournament, the Blue Raiders will need plenty of upsets to occur throughout the entire tournament and hope for Florida or Missouri to win the final.

If all of these games end up in Middle Tennessee's favor, it could end up as one of the final teams inserted into the field of 68. But, if there is one thing we have learned from the regular season, it is to expected the unexpected.

If the rest of the conference tournaments follow that same motto, the Blue Raiders could be on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. 


Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.