Story by Tyler Lamb // Contributing Writer
Photo by Meagan White // Staff Photographer
It has been three years since Middle Tennessee’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, and head coach Kermit Davis and the Blue Raiders have put together an impressive 2015-16 resumé. With seven games remaining on the regular season schedule, Middle Tennessee’s record is 17-6 overall, and their 9-2 C-USA record is good enough to put them in second place, trailing UAB (20-4, 10-1 C-USA).
The Blue Raiders entered the 2015-16 season with high expectations after having a disappointing season a year ago. This past November, they kicked off their March Madness campaign taking home the GCI Great Alaskan Shootout. This would be just the second regular season tournament trophy taken home in the Kermit Davis era, the last coming in 2008.
Closing out the first half of the season, the Raiders have had some highs and lows.
Arguably the biggest take away thus far has been the upset victory of Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers, who would eventually go on to beat the perennial Kentucky Wildcats. Another highlight of the season came on Jan. 30 as Coach Davis picked up his 400th career win.
Likely the biggest negative is the 5-4 record on the road. The Blue Raiders will need to to improve on this aspect of their game if they want to improve their resumé heading into the postseason.
Most valuable players
Middle Tennessee does not have a true MVP. Last season, the Blue Raiders did not have a single player averaging double-figure points per game, but this season, they has four players in that regard with Giddy Potts (15.2 PPG), Reggie Upshaw (13.3 PPG), Darnell Harris (12.9 PPG), and Perrin Buford (11.3 PPG). In each of the 23 games, there have been five different point leaders, six different rebound leaders and seven different assist leaders for the Blue Raiders.
Sophomore Giddy Potts has produced the most surprising performance this season. Giddy has scored 10-plus points in 16 of his last 19 games played this season. This season Potts has been unstoppable from deep range, with his biggest night coming against Charlotte when he scored a career-high 29 points with seven shots from beyond the arc. As of Saturday, his three-point productivity this season has earned him the top ranked three-point shooting average in the nation (51.9 percent).
Selected to the preseason All-Conference Team, Reggie Upshaw hasn’t disappointed. Upshaw leads the team in minutes (29.2), rebounds (8.7), steals (31) and assists (44), is second in points (13.3) and field goal percentage (.509), and is third in blocks (14). His 32-point career-high and 12 rebound game against Trevecca (Dec. 30) was the first 30 and 10 night for a Blue Raider since Aylton Tech in 1998.
Forward Darnell Harris has made at least one three-pointer in 18 of the last 20 games and has scored 10 or more points in 13 of his last 18. His biggest highlight of the year came when he rallied the Blue Raiders in a late game thriller over rival Western Kentucky. The senior scored a season-high 22 points, scoring the last 10 points for Middle Tennessee, which included the game-winning tip-in as time expired.
Of late, Perrin Buford has been extremely valuable. Two weeks ago, Buford hauled in his first double-double with 16 points and 11 boards against North Texas. This past week, the senior guard/forward lifted the Blue Raiders in a late game comeback against FIU.
He moved into the top 10 in Middle Tennessee history with 49 career blocks. “I know this is my senior year and the games are coming down and I’m just trying to stay focused and give my team the lift that they need,” Perrin Buford said at Saturday’s press conference after the thrilling win over FIU.
This week, the Raiders will travel to La Tech (Feb. 11) and Southern Miss (Feb. 13) to round off the final road trips of the regular season. In the Blue Raiders’ recent one-point victory over FIU, Middle Tennessee showed its perseverance and late game determination that will be put to test in the final home stretch.
The Raiders will get a much-deserved bye week before facing their top competitor UAB (20-4, 10-1 C-USA) at home on Feb. 21. The Blue Raiders came up short in their last meeting falling 67-78. However, this was on night when Buford was held to one basket and Potts was serving his suspension.
The two final home games follow against rival Western Kentucky (Feb. 25) and Marshall (Feb. 27) are the last chance to improve their C-USA seeding heading into the conference tournament which will begin on March 8 in Birmingham, Alabama.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email firstname.lastname@example.org.