GoMiddle's Matt Dossett pens a farewell to the 2016-17 Blue Raider MBB season
USA Today Sports
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders had a season for the ages.
Last seasons victory over the mighty Michigan State Spartans let everyone know loud and clear that the Blue Raiders were a force to be reckoned with. This season, Middle Tennessee elevated their status even more, morphing into one of the nations’ elite clubs.
In Conference USA play this year, MT dominated the competition, posting a 17-1 record. Kermit Davis and company wanted to “leave no doubt” as to who ran the conference by winning the Conference USA tournament. There was a realistic possibility that the team would get snubbed from the NCAA tournament if they did not bring home the hardware at Birmingham, Alabama.
The Blue Raiders made sure that notion never came to fruition, though, posting a 3-0 record in Birmingham, stamping their ticket to the Big Dance. Those three victories placed them at an impressive 20-1 in league play. Despite a Top-25 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll, and despite the fact they had 30 wins under their belt, Middle Tennessee was only awarded with a 12-seed, showing that they still had some work to do to capture the respect of the NCAA committee.
It didn’t take long for the national pundits to peg MT as their upset special in the opening round of the tournament. As a result, there was a ton of pressure on MT to perform and get the job done in the first round versus Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were a big, physical club that had elite length and size. Early on, MT struggled to overcome post man Reggie Lynch. Lynch kicked off the game with a few inside baskets and some huge, statement blocks.
Lynch did get in precarious foul trouble, though. Once he exited the game, Brandon Walters went to town, making hay in the paint. The Blue Raiders hopped out to a sizeable lead, but had to hold off a furious Minnesota charge late in the game before taking home the 81-72 victory. For the second straight year, the Blue Raiders had pulled off an impressive first round "upset" in the Big Dance.
MT was not as fortunate in their Round of 32 matchup against the Butler Bulldogs, however. Butler jumped out all over MT from the very beginning of the contest. As I stated prior to the game, MT needed to bring their A-game to the table. That did not happen. There is no way to spin it, MT just never got things going the way fans were accustomed to seeing. They dug a hole so deep to the point that they could not claw their way back to victory. Giddy Potts, Ed Simpson and Tyrik Dixon were all held scoreless in the game, and although the Blue Raiders got fantastic performances from Antwain Johnson and JaCorey Williams, it just wasn’t enough to overcome their deficiencies. MT would fall by the final tally of 74-65, once again exiting the Big Dance in the second round.
It indeed was a tough loss that brought the MT locomotive to a screeching halt. You have to feel for seniors JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw, Xavier Habersham and Aldonis Foote. It was a tough blow and a bad way to go out, but these seniors have no reason to hang their head. This team did so much for the perception of not just MT hoops, but the entire University. These guys, along with their teammates, were first class representatives of Middle Tennessee State University. As mentioned at the top, this season was special – perhaps the most special season in school history. MTSU had never had a 30-win season. Well, that happened this season. The Blue Raiders had never had back-to-back tournament appearances. Uh, yeah, that occurred as well. Also, never in history has MT reached the second round of the NCAA tournament in back-to-back tournaments. That cannot be said anymore either. It was a year of firsts for the Blue Raiders.
Calling it special is probably an understatement.
Fans of the Blue Raiders need to truly relish what took place this season. It was a culmination of talent, persistence, perseverance, and effort. MT possessed all the ingredients you need to have a special basketball team.
Years from now, I think that most people will look back on these times and dub this period as the golden era of Middle Tennessee basketball. What a thing to say, too.
There is a scene in the movie “Friday Night Lights” where, at the end of the movie, the coach is taking down the names of all the graduating seniors off the depth chart board. I reverted back to that scene right after MT lost. It will be a tough task replacing Upshaw, Williams, Habersham, and Foote. They all had valuable attributes that contributed big time to the success of the team. With a new contract in hand, though, it looks like Kermit Davis is out there trying to do just that.
MT is reloading, folks – not rebuilding. There are still fun times ahead.