NCAA Tournament Predictions: Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee State

Middle Tennessee players celebrate at the midcourt after defeating Marshall in the NCAA college basketball game during the championship game of the Conference USA tournament, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Eric Schultz)

It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.

Minnesota’s Eric Curry (24), Bakary Konate (21) of Mali and head coach Richard Pitino, March 2, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

5. Minnesota (24-9, 11-7/Big Ten)–Richard Pitino appeared to be on his last life after a dismal 8-23 campaign last season. He hadn’t brought the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament in any of his first three years, and it appeared that his seat was getting Rick Pitino-with-the-Celtics-hot heading into Year 4. No worries. Despite having one of the youngest teams in the country, Pitino engineered major college hoops’ biggest turnaround, winning 24 games and finishing fourth in the crowded Big Ten.

For his efforts, Pitino earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. He can thank 6-5 junior Nate Mason (15.5 ppg, 5 apg), 6-8 freshman Amir Coffey (12.1 ppg) and 6-6 forward Jordan Murphy (11.2 ppg) for changing the program’s fortunes.

Middle Tennessee’s Reggie Upshaw gets past Michigan State’s Eron Harris to dunk the ball during the second half of a first-round men’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in St. Louis. Middle Tennessee won 90-81. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

12. Middle Tennessee State (30-4, 17-1/Conference USA)– Middle Tennessee pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in NCAA history last year, ousting second-seeded Michigan State in the first round and busting a large percentage of the country’s brackets in the process. Never before had a team with those kind of national championship aspirations been taken down by a 15-seed in the first round, and Middle Tennessee didn’t leave much of a doubt, either–leading by double digits throughout and holding on for a 90-81 win.

So what will the Blue Raiders do for an encore? How about a trip to the Sweet 16? Middle Tennessee has virtually its entire team back from last year, including Conference USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding at 17.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg. Also back are March heroes Reggie Upshaw (14.5 ppg) and Giddy Potts (15.8 ppg), who is memorable not only for his name but also his three-point shooting ability.

PREDICTION: Minnesota has had something of a dream season, but it’s nothing compared to the run head coach Kermit Davis and the Blue Raiders are on. They won’t sneak up on anybody, but Middle Tennessee is good enough that they won’t have to. We’ve got them knocking off the Gophers, and then taking down Butler en route to the Sweet 16. There, MTSU will fall to North Carolina.