Middle Tennessee State Looks To Be On the Outside Looking In

USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Raiders put together a great season -- one highly rated in the computer -- but it might fall short when the committee evaluates it against the other bubble teams.

The cause celebre for the NCAA Tournament bubble seems to be the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. The Sun Belt regular season champions lost their opportunity to eliminate any doubts when they lost to Florida International in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

And so the Blue Raiders sit on the bubble, with a large portion of the media getting behind their cause because of the 28-5 record, and a 20-2 overall conference record, including the conference tournament.

It is very similar to the situation that Drexel found itself in just a year before. The Dragons ran through the CAA only to fall in the finals to Virginia Commonwealth. Drexel had just one Top 50 win, which came over VCU at home during conference play. The best nonconference win came during Bracket Busters when the Dragons took out Cleveland State, but it was barely within the top 100.

And that was the biggest problem for Drexel. Without Chris Fouch at the beginning of the season, they lost opportunities to earn better wins, but even that might not have been enough. The strength of schedule was just 212.

Middle Tennessee did slightly better this season, logging a strength of schedule in the top half of the NCAA.

But the rest of the resume looks very similar.

The Blue Raiders lost opportunities to win top games against Florida, Akron and Belmont. The best win ended as No. 50 Mississippi (who might still walk away as the SEC champions), a team that itself is hanging on the bubble with better wins.

But that is the only top 50 win, and it might go away if the Rebels can't top Florida on Sunday. After that, the best win is Central Florida, already outside of the top 100.

This strength of schedule was built on getting a number of teams in terms of the middle of the pack, without a lot of teams on the bottom end (out of conference) and a few on the top end to balance it out. But Middle Tennessee didn't walk away with any of those wins.

And that is the problem. Despite all of the good in the Middle Tennessee State resume (a top 50 win, 28 overall wins and only one loss outside of the top 150) there is a big whole in the top that doesn't compare well with the other teams sitting on the bubble.

All of those teams come from major conferences (or are named St. Mary's) where they had more opportunities to earn those top 50 wins, and many of those teams came through over and over again. They might have more losses, but the greater number of "quality" wins is likely going to win out.

So here is the weird thing though: it might come down to Middle Tennessee State and St. Mary's for the final spot. The Gaels have a slightly better strength of schedule, but a lot of that came from three games against Gonzaga, BYU's decent RPI, a much more beneficial Bracket Buster game against Creighton.

But in terms of wins, it is very similar. St. Mary's has the one top 50 win against the Jays. They add three top 100 wins: two against BYU and one against No. 100 Pacific. And again, there is the lack of bad losses -- none worse than Georgia Tech (No. 148).

It will all come down to what the committee values more. Will St. Mary's luck in Bracket Busters, and playing in a better conference make the difference? Or will Middle Tennessee get the vote for winning their conference, no matter how much further down it is in the pecking order?

One of these teams -- and maybe both -- will be very disappointed come Sunday night. And it looks like it will probably be Middle Tennessee.

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