Men’s basketball: Top 5 non-conference games to watch in the 2017-18 season

Antwain Johnson lays the ball in the basket during an NCAA Tournament second-round game against Butler in Milwaukee, WI on March 19, 2017. (MTSU Sidelines/Tyler Lamb)

Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sidelines Archive 

Story by Timothy Carroll / Contributing Writer

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raider men’s basketball team enjoyed a remarkabled 2016-17 campaign that saw them win both the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. The Blue Raiders finished with a 31-5 overall record, including a school-record 17 conference wins.

This was good enough to land Middle Tennessee a spot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament as a 12-seed. In their Round of 64 matchup against Minnesota, the Blue Raiders earned a win over a Big Ten team for the second straight season in 81-72 fashion. This led to a round of 32 match-up against Butler, who ended the Blue Raiders’ magical season with a 74-65 victory.

This year, Middle Tennessee will try to get back to the “big dance” in March, but to do so, they will have to first get through a tough slate of non-conference opponents. Here are the five games that Blue Raider fans should make sure they tune in for.

1) Vanderbilt University

Where: Nashville, Tennessee

When: December 6, 2017

This will be a match-up between two schools that each made it to the NCAA Tournament this past season. When these two teams met last season, it was all on Middle Tennessee as they cruised past the Commodores by a final score of 71-48 in Murfreesboro. This year’s contest will be played on Vandy’s home turf, so you can expect it to be much closer than last season’s thrashing.

2) Florida Gulf Coast University

Where: Murfreesboro, Tennessee

When: November 11, 2017

Middle Tennessee plays Florida Gulf Coast in back-to-back games this coming season. The Eagles won their conference last season, and are returning all five of their starters from a very experienced team. With them providing a steady mid-major presence in the last few NCAA Tournaments, expect this to be a competitive bout that could easily be determined by whoever has home court advantage.

3) Auburn University

Where: Birmingham, Alabama

When: December 16, 2017

The last time these two teams faced off, the Raiders defeated the Tigers by a score of 88-81 in overtime back in December 2015. Auburn failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season, but they will enter this upcoming season with the eighth-ranked recruiting class in the nation. This instantly makes them a far more dangerous and competitive team. Since it is being played in a neutral site, this will be a hard-fought game in which neither team has any sort of home advantage.

4) University of Mississippi

Where: Murfreesboro, Tennessee

When: December 9, 2017

Although they failed to make the NCAA Tournament, the Rebels were invited to the NIT Tournament where they lost in Round Eight. The Blue Raiders defeated Ole Miss in Oxford in dominant fashion by a score of 77-62. With a roster that ranks 30th overall in the nation, the Rebels will look to avenge that loss at home.

5) Belmont University

Where: Murfreesboro, Tennessee

When: November 16, 2017

Middle Tennessee defeated Belmont 79-66 last season in Nashville. The Bruins enjoyed a solid overall season, finishing with a 15-1 conference record and a 23-7 record on the year. This was good enough for them to earn an invitation to the NIT, where they lost to the second place-finisher Georgia Tech. While they might not pose the biggest threat to Middle Tennessee, games against in-state rivals are always competitive and fun to watch.

To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email

For more sports stories, follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter and Periscope at @Sidelines_Sport.

Previous 'The mind is powerful': MTSU alumna writes book on 'black experience'
Next Nashville Pride President discusses what Pride looks like in Middle Tennessee

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.