Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor / Editor-in-Chief
With a game against Butler set for Saturday night, Blue Raider head coach Kermit Davis will be looking at a team that he has tried to emulate the success of for the last few years.
Before the Bulldogs became a regular in the top 25 rankings, they were the same kind of team that Middle Tennessee was last year before the Michigan State victory: a little-known mid-major with no real marquee value. That all changed in 2010 when the team made a Cinderella run to the National Championship game.
Many Butler fans know this as the game in which future NBA star Gordon Hayward missed a half-court shot by a couple inches to lose the game to Duke Blue Devils. Many thought the Bulldogs would take a step back the next season and miss their golden opportunity to make their name known.
Those who thought that were wrong.
Butler followed that up with another run to the championship game, this time against another storied program in the UConn Huskies. In one of the lowest scoring games in recent memory, the Bulldogs once again fell short by a final score of 53-41 and returned home as the runner-ups for the second straight season.
The program has remained stable, making it to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2010 except 2012 and 2014. Even while it’s impressive to make the tournament as a mid-major, they’ve failed to advance past the Round of 32 ever since their last championship run.
Now, they stand on the verge of getting over that hump, but standing in their way is a team that is very similar to them: the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
The Blue Raiders were on a great run two years ago when they entered the Conference USA Tournament as the sixth seed. They shocked everyone by defeating Charlotte, Old Dominion and UTEP to go the conference tournament championship where they lost to UAB, the host of the tournament.
The following year, Middle Tennessee enjoyed more success by winning 24 games in the regular season before winning the conference tournament. The NCAA Selection Committee decided they were only good enough for the 15th seed in the midwest region and pitted them against Michigan State.
What happened next needs no explaining, as the Blue Raiders pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history by shocking the Spartans 90-81. Their magical run ended with a loss to eventual region champion, Syracuse.
Now one year later, MTSU’s talent is up from this time last year and they showed that in their win over Minnesota. Coach Davis has been preparing his team for a big moment like this and knows that this is a good Butler team his guys need to be ready for.
“I took this program over 15 years ago and my biggest goal was trying to get our program to be like Butler,” Davis said after the Minnesota win. “The stability, what they’ve done, all of those things are important. I have a ton of respect for their program but I think it’s going to be a heck of a basketball game.”
“I think it’s going to be two really good teams and should be a kind of game like this one tonight,” Davis said.
The two teams will battle on Saturday night at 6:10 p.m. CST, and can be viewed on TBS.