The calendar just turned to March, so it means only one thing -- the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner.
Last season, both the MTSU men's and women's basketball teams advanced to the Big Dance. Each has been on the right path to advance this year, but both they have lot of work left before it starts later this month.
Part of the reason both teams have done so well this season, it's first in Conference USA, is the tough non-conference schedule each has played. Heading into yesterday's game against UAB, the Lady Raiders had only lost four games, three coming against SEC teams Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. The Lady Raiders have quality wins Clemson, Miami, Wright State, Mississippi State and South Dakota State.
“It plays a lot into our success,” Lady Raider head coach Rick Insell said. “We have played so many tough games. When you look back from beginning to end, we have been in so many tough games it is unreal.”
Since Insell got here nine seasons ago, a point of emphasis for the program has been to compete against the best competition in the sport and try to become a player in the women's game.
So far, it has worked out and he hopes for the same result this year. Currently, the Lady Raiders are in the top spot in C-USA, ranked No. 23 in the latest AP Poll, and according to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Crème, are a projected No. 8 seed in the Lincoln (Neb.) Region. However, the main worry for the Lady Raiders right now is finishing the regular season strong heading into the C-USA tournament on March 11.
“I just take it game by game,” MTSU senior guard Laken Leonard. “A lot of people can remember the whole schedule, but I just focus on who the next opponent is going to be. My family and my grandparents remind me and update me on all that.”
As for the men, the Blue Raiders have played several teams in non-conference play who are still leading its respective conferences. While MTSU has losses to Florida (SEC), Cincinnati (AAC), and Belmont (OVC), the Blue Raiders believe it has helped them prepare for its first season in C-USA.
“It prepared us for what we were looking for in C-USA,” MTSU sophomore guard Jaqawn Raymond said. “C-USA is so tough, so we tried to prepare in the off-season by scheduling tough teams so we can be ready for conference play.”
After a key road loss on national television at Tulsa on Jan. 23, the Blue Raiders had won nine C-USA games in a row before falling at Louisiana Tech on Thursday night. MTSU was in a four-way tie for first place going into Saturday’s home finale against Rice. Also, various bracketologists around the nation have the Blue Raiders in the field of 68 as a No. 14 seed in some of the different regions.
“We do not talk about it at all, but I enjoy looking at it,” MTSU men's basketball head coach Kermit Davis. “I am just a basketball nut because I read everything. I love to read about college basketball in general. It helps your fan base, helps recruiting and it gets us some national publicity.”
Thanks to the tough non-conference schedule, and their current success in C-USA both teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament later this month.