Middle Tennessee State: 21 things you need to know about the Blue Raiders
ST. LOUIS -- The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are ready for their closeup. Michigan State toppled, Syracuse to play Sunday, a first-ever Sweet 16 trip at stake. The lowest seed left standing always gets to be the nation’s Cinderella, and for the moment, that’s them.
"We might need a bigger locker room," Darnell Harris said Saturday, as the media flowed in.
So, here are 21 things to know about Middle Tennessee State University:
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2. Until Friday, the biggest victory in Blue Raiders history was probably the first round of the 1982 tournament, when as a No. 11 seed they upset No.6 Kentucky 50-44. Not one Wildcat scored more than eight points that day. Back then, Louisville and Kentucky refused to play one another during the season, so there was much ado when the NCAA bracket had them paired in the second round. Middle Tennessee fouled it all up.
3. When he took the job at Idaho at the age of 28. Kermit Davis was the youngest coach in Division I. Now he’s 56 and in his 14th year with the Blue Raiders. In between, he had a disastrous single season at Texas A&M when the program landed in NCAA trouble. That was 25 years ago. "We kind of had to recycle our career," he said. ``It teaches you a lot of things. I’m a lot better person and a lot better coach because of that experience."
4. Middle Tennessee had a 100-percent graduation rate at last check. According to Davis, "41 or 42" seniors in a row who exhausted their eligibility have graduated. One factor has been his point system, where players accumulate demerit points for being late or missing a class. Get to two, and a player has a run. Get to four, and the whole team has to run. "You don’t want to be that guy," Reggie Upshaw Jr. said. "So everybody makes sure they’re on time to class and make it to class."
5. This will be Syracuse’s 100th NCAA Tournament game Saturday. It will be Middle Tennessee’s 11th. The Orange has 62 wins. The Blue Raiders have three.
6. Senior point guard JaQawn Raymond has played 76 minutes in the Conference-USA championship game and against Michigan State without a turnover. He also scored 11 points against the Spartans, which was more than he scored his entire freshman year at North Carolina State.
7. Senior starting forward Harris hasn’t had a haircut in five years. "Going on six, actually," he said Saturday. "But if we win this one, I may get it cut."
8. Student manager Todd Day’s father, also Todd, is the leading career scorer at Arkansas, a member of the Razorbacks' 1990 Final Four team, and later an NBA player.
9. The Blue Raiders have never played Syracuse. They are 2-15 all-time against the current membership of the ACC, and have never beaten a team when it was actually in that conference. The two wins were in the 1980s against Florida State and Virginia Tech, both in their pre-ACC days.
10. Middle Tennessee was on the periphery of one of college basketball’s darkest events. On Dec. 14, 1977, the Blue Raiders had a home game scheduled with Evansville. The Aces were traveling to Murfreesboro the night before, and their plane crashed in the rain and fog shortly after takeoff. The death toll was 29, including the coaching staff and every player, except one who had stayed home with an injury. He was killed two weeks later by a drunk driver.
11. Assistant coach Ronnie Hamilton played at Duke -- as a defensive back on the football team.
12. Another assistant, Win Case, was Bill Self’s teammate at Oklahoma State.
13. Sophomore guard Edward Simpson Jr., who started 14 games before breaking his ankle in practice before the conference tournament, is a mechatronics engineering major with a 3.83 grade point average. He was recruited by Yale.
14. Simpson’s fracture was so gruesome, and his teammates so shaken, Davis made sure the players saw stories of Kevin Ware’s recovery after his infamous injury for Louisville in the Elite Eight against Duke in 2013. "We played against Kevin Ware this year at Georgia State," Davis said. "Our guys saw him healthy. I think that was good too."
15. Two Blue Raider numbers that were highly noticeable when the tournament began, and still are: They are 9-1 in games decided by three points or less. And sophomore Giddy Potts leads the nation with his 50.7 shooting percentage in 3-pointers. He was 3-for-5 against Michigan State.
16. Speaking of Potts, he is listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. When he made his recruiting visit to Murfreesboro -- as a late find for Davis in late winter of Potts' senior year -- Upshaw said he "was easily 240 pounds." Upshaw went up to shake hands with Potts' leaner brother, thinking he was the recruit. Better eating habits and training have slimmed him down.
17. By his count, Potts took a thousand shots a day during high school, perfecting his stroke. That included late at night at the Boys and Girls Club. And he had his own shooting coach in high school.
18. Middle Tennessee five starters scored in double figures against Michigan State. The Blue Raiders did not have one player last year average in double figures.
19. Two biggies on the MTSU alumni list: James M. Buchanan won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1986, and Al Gore Sr., father of the vice president under Bill Clinton.
20. Upshaw, the junior who scored 21 points and added an exclamation dunk at the end on Michigan State, was recruited by several schools to play tight end. Including by the Middle Tennessee football staff.
21. Seven other No. 15 seeds have been where the Blue Raiders are now; in the second round after upsetting a No. 2 seed. Six lost, with 2013 Florida Gulf Coast the only exception. Their story is special, but is it Dunk City special?
Sunday will tell.