Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor // Managing Editor
Two Reggie Upshaw free throws secured Middle Tennessee’s first conference championship in 27 years and first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013.
The Blue Raiders were given a 15 seed, drawing second seed Michigan State University, many college basketball analysts pick to win the National Championship.
Michigan State’s seeding is a bit of a surprise, as most all bracketologists gave them a one seed, but Oregon was given the final top seed in the tournament, giving the Big Ten champion a two seed.
MTSU head coach Kermit Davis was surprised with his team’s seeding, but, nonetheless, was thankful for making it into the tournament, thinking his team deserved a 13 or a 14 seed.
Friday’s matchup will have the top two three-point shooters in the nation and a candidate for the John Wooden Award on display.
Michigan State’s Bryn Forbes is second in the country in three-point percentage, shooting 48.4% from beyond the arc, and MTSU’s Giddy Potts currently leads the nation with a 50.3% three-point percentage.
Denzel Valentine (19.4 PPG), Forbes (14.4 PPG) and Matt Costello (10.4 PPG) all average double figures for the Spartans, while Valentine and Costello average near a double-double with 7.6 and 8.2 rebounds per game, respectively.
The Blue Raiders one-up the Spartans in double figure scorers, as Potts (15.0 PPG), Reggie Upshaw (13.8 PPG), Perrin Buford (12.0 PPG) and Darnell Harris (11.8) all average over 10 points per game.
Head coach Tom Izzo will have his Spartans playing their typical man-to-man defense, while trying to not allow Potts to get any open space beyond the arc. If Potts begins to get hot early on, don’t be surprised if Izzo puts the lengthier Valentine on Potts to try to neutralize him.
The Blue Raiders will have their hands full with arguably the best collegiate player this season in Valentine. Valentine can do it all: he can score, he can rebound, he can run the point and he can play defense.
JaQawn Raymond will most likely be tasked with guarding Valentine throughout the majority of the game. The 6-foot-4 senior comparatively matches with 6-foot-5 Valentine best because he matches up with Valentine’s length and athleticism.
Raymond has proven his defensive prowess this season, especially in the Conference USA championship game against Old Dominion’s Trey Freeman. Freeman was held to only 17 points on 7-for-23 shooting, after leading the conference is scoring all season long and dropping 42 points in the semifinal round.
The Blue Raiders will have to neutralize Valentine and company, while capitalizing on open looks from the field, if they hope to become the third 15 seed to ever knock off a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
MTSU takes on MSU Friday at 1:45 p.m. CT from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
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To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.