Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
At the start of the 2017-18 season, the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders jumped out to their first 4-0 start since 1995 and were clicking on all cylinders. Since then however, they have gone 2-4 with losses against Ole Miss, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
For a mid-major school, each and every game against a “Power 5” conference team is a chance to make a statement. More importantly, it gives them opportunities to raise their RPI.
RPI is a quantity that the NCAA uses to rank teams based on wins and losses, as well as its strength of schedule.
The Lady Raiders’ RPI at the start of the season was 75, but after playing three inferior opponents in the first four games, that ranking dropped to 221. Middle Tennessee has had some opportunities to build it back up, but their tough schedule hasn’t paid off with wins.
The first chance came on the road against the Ole Miss Rebels. The Rebels currently have an RPI ranking of 39, and they still have the heart of their schedule and conference play left. A victory would’ve given the Lady Raiders a quality win that would’ve raised their RPI, but they lost by a final score of 65-56.
MTSU’s next missed opportunity came against the 38th-ranked RPI team in the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Lady Raiders took them down to the wire, but ultimately couldn’t recover from a slow start to lose 48-45.
Finally, Middle Tennessee’s most important game was against the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals currently sit as the fourth-ranked team in the country and they have an RPI ranking of six. MT struggled from the start, and lost by a score of 80-26. If the Lady Raiders had won this game, it would have greatly increased their RPI and would’ve been their best win of the season.
While you wouldn’t identify these as bad losses, they are games that could’ve really solidified MTSU’s resume. Now, they will likely have to win their conference tournament to make it to postseason play.
When the selection committee is looking at teams to put into 64-team field, the main thing they look at is RPI. Each conference champion gets an automatic bid, so having a high RPI is the only way that other teams will make the tournament. That is especially true for a mid-major team like MTSU.
Given that Middle Tennessee has the highest RPI in Conference USA, it will be hard for them to make it if they are not able to win the conference tournament. MTSU is one of the best teams in C-USA, so winning the league is something that is certainly within reach, but with that being said, they still have two more games that could improve their RPI greatly.
One of those game will be against the USC Lady Trojans. With USC having the 26th-ranked RPI, so this would be a season-making win for the Lady Raiders as far as their resume is concerned. The next big opportunity is against the Kentucky Wildcats, who have the 64th-ranked RPI. Because they play in one of the best conferences in the nation, this would be another great win for MTSU to add to their record.
While it is still really early in the season, the Lady Raiders are running out of opportunities. If they can improve their offense and get Alex Johnson back to full health, they will still have a chance to put themselves in good standing when the postseason rolls around.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Logan Ward on Twitter at @lward98_ward.
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