With a shocking 90-81 defeat of 2 seed Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament last March, the 15-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders were the ultimate bracket busters. In fact, according to Yahoo! Sports, 99.1 percent of the brackets selected on their site had the Spartans beating Middle Tennessee State, and many sports books in Las Vegas had the Spartans favored to win the entire tournament.
Moving into the 2016-17 season, there is a new label that has been bestowed upon the Blue Raiders: Pretty darn good basketball team.
MTSU is coming off a season that saw it go 25-10 overall, with a Conference USA championship to go with it. Head coach Kermit Davis is entering his 15th season at the helm of the Blue Raiders and has led them to 24 wins or more in four of the past five seasons. This is the fifth time in seven years that they have won or shared the conference title.
With the offseason winding down, Davis has had a few months to reflect on the biggest win in program history.
“Getting off to an early start was great for us,” he said. “Our team settled in and thought they belonged.”
“Those kinds of games are not only good for basketball, they’re good for the whole university.”
The 56 year-old Davis is responsible for making Middle Tennessee an emerging program in the NCAA. He grew up in Starkville, Mississippi as the son of Kermit Sr., the head coach at Mississippi State from 1970-77.
The year prior to his arrival saw MTSU win only one game in conference. Since then, the Blue Raiders have emerged as a perennial contender and one of the winningest programs in Conference USA.
Moving into the start of the 2016-17 season, Davis seems confident that his win over Tom Izzo’s Spartans was not a Cinderella, story but rather a sign of things to come. He said that this year’s squad will be the biggest and most athletic that he has had in his time at MTSU.
The Blue Raiders will once again be led by 6’2 junior guard Giddy Potts, who was his team’s leading scorer last season (14.9 points per game) and the best three-point shooter in the country (50.6 percent). Potts hit on a school record 79 of 156 attempts behind the arc.
Davis calls his star guard “country strong.”
“You take that kind of brawn and strength, mixed with a guy who can shoot it so soft from anywhere on the court,” he said. “It’s quite a combination.”
The MTSU head coach also pointed to three newcomers who should have an immediate impact, including 6’8 senior forward JaCorey Williams. He played in 96 games for Arkansas over three seasons and put on 20 pounds of muscle while sitting out last season as a transfer.
Davis said Williams has a chance to be an all-Conference USA player.
Along with Williams, 6’10 junior forward Brandon Walters should make an instant impact for MTSU following two seasons in the JuCo ranks, and 6’9 freshman forward Davion Thomas is being touted as a difference maker for the Blue Raiders.
“He’s the most athletic guy we’ve ever had here.” Davis said of Thomas. “This guy is going to be something.”
Some coaches try to keep their cards a little closer to their chests and perhaps downplay their team’s potential in hopes of not disappointing their fan base. However, Davis was beaming with excitement about his team and its prospects moving into the new season.