MIDDLE TENNESSEE BLUE RAIDERS (28-5)
vs. SAINT MARY'S GAELS (27-6)
NCAA Tournament - First Round
Tip-off: Tuesday, 9:10 p.m. ET
Line: Saint Mary's -3, Total: 132
Two bubble teams with impressive records try to advance to the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament when 28-win Middle Tennessee takes on 27-win Saint Mary's in Tuesday's "First Four" matchup in Dayton, OH.
The Blue Raiders were 19-1 in the Sun Belt during the regular season, winning 17 straight contests before getting upset by Florida International in the conference semifinals. If not for Gonzaga, the Gaels would be on a 19-game win streak, as all three of their defeats in their past 22 contests have come versus the No. 1 seed in the West region. MTU has some impressive victories this season, beating two SEC teams -- tournament champion Ole Miss and Vanderbilt on a neutral court. The Raiders also challenged themselves with trips to three other NCAA Tournament teams -- Florida, Belmont and Akron -- but lost all three games. Saint Mary's has not played a difficult schedule by any stretch, with its best non-conference wins coming against Harvard (by 1 point at home) and at Utah State way back on Nov. 15. Neither team has thrived in non-home games this season, as MTU is 4-12-1 ATS (0-3-1 ATS on neutral sites) while SMC is 8-7-1 ATS including a 1-4 ATS clip in neutral-court affairs.
Which school will open the NCAA Tournament with a victory? For the answer, connect to 2013 NCAA Tourney Picks for all the Expert picks throughout the entire tournament. The four StatFox experts begin the NCAA Tournament on quite a roll, going a collective 75% ATS (35-12-1) in the season's final four days and 67% ATS (67-33-2) since March 9, with StatFox Gary going 75% ATS (12-4), StatFox Brian posting a 68% ATS mark (19-9-1), StatFox Dave also at 68% ATS (17-8) and StatFox Scott winning 61% ATS (19-12-1) in those final nine days. Gary has a 68% ATS record (23-11) since Feb. 27 to improve to 56.1% ATS (110-86-4) for the entire college basketball season.
Middle Tennessee is a veteran squad that makes few mistakes (+2.1 TO margin), always crashes the glass (+6.0 RPG margin) and can both shoot the three-ball (37.8%) and defend the three (29.6%, 19th in nation). The Blue Raiders really shine on the defensive end of the court, allowing just 57.8 PPG (15th in nation) on 39.4% FG (35th in D-I). Their only real weaknesses are a 69% FT clip and the propensity to commit too many fouls (20.6 per game). One of the reasons they defend so well is their nine-man rotation in which every player averages between 13.5 and 26.4 MPG. This keeps the legs fresh and energy high up-and-down the bench. Senior SG Marcos Knight (12.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) is the only MTU player scoring in double-figures, and is also the team leader in rebounds. Although he posted a double-double (13 pts, 11 reb) in the loss to FIU on March 10, Knight shot just 5-of-14 from the floor, including 0-for-4 threes. He is averaging just 9.7 PPG on 31% shooting (0-for-5 threes) in three March games. Senior SG Raymond Cintron (8.7 PPG) is the club's long-range threat, making 44.0% threes, while PF Shawn Jones (8.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and SF Neiko Hunter (7.6 PPG) both shoot over 50% from the floor. Senior PG Bruce Massey (6.6 PPG, 3.3 APG) is a smart floor general who has committed just 10 turnovers in 10 games since the start of February.
Saint Mary's knows how to rack up points, posting 75.5 PPG on 47.4% FG, both numbers among the top-25 schools in the nation. The Gaels are comfortable scoring from behind the arc (7.9 threes per game on a 37.5% clip) or pounding the ball inside, as they outrebound opponents by +8.7 RPG this season, the sixth-best margin in the nation. They also have a strong 1.22 Ast/TO ratio (41st in nation), with 14.7 APG and just 12.0 TOPG. But the team has a few glaring weaknesses, most notably the inability to both defend the three-point shot (37.5% threes allowed) and to create turnovers with just 6.3 SPG (225th in nation) and 3.0 BPG (223rd in D-I). This efficient offense runs through PG Matthew Dellavedova (15.8 PPG, 6.4 APG), who makes 37% of his threes and 88% of his free throws this season. But he's been ice-cold since the calendar flipped to March, making just 8-of-38 shots (21%) including a dreadful 1-of-18 threes. Junior SG Stephen Holt (11.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG) comprises the other half of this dynamic backcourt. Holt has shot poorly all season (41% FG, 34% threes), but tallied 19 points and seven rebounds in the WCC Championship loss to Gonzaga. SMC has two other double-digit scorers in SF Beau Levesque (10.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG) and PF Brad Waldow (10.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG). Levesque has shot a blistering 47.4% threes (45-for-95) for the season, and has 14.0 PPG (5-of-11 threes) in his past two contests. Waldow was a bit overmatched against the great size of Gonzaga, but he dominated San Diego in the league semifinals with 23 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.