Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #81
Conference Rank: #2 Conference USA
Middle Tennessee shocked the college basketball world by knocking off second seeded Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Raiders could not compete with Syracuse in round two, but Coach Kermit Davis has his team ready to compete in what will be a very tough Conference USA. But with Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw returning, MTSU has plenty of reason to be optimistic. Potts led the nation by knocking down an amazing 50.6 percent of his three-point attempts. He led the team with 14.9 points per game and will take the big shots for Middle Tennessee. Upshaw, a 6-8 forward, can play either the three or the four spot. He has a good enough outside shot and enough athleticism to play the three and more than enough size to play the four. Last season Upshaw was second to Potts in the scoring column, averaging 13.7 points per game and led the team with 8.5 rebounds.
2015-16 Record: 25-10, 13-5
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Kermit Davis
Coach Record: 259-159 at Middle Tennessee, 330-209 overall
Two players other than Potts and Upshaw were double digit scorers last season and both of them are gone. Perrin Buford, a 6-6 wing, was very dangerous attacking the basket during his senior season. He was efficient and effective and on those rare occasions when shots were not falling for MTSU, getting the ball to Buford was always a great option. Darnell Harris was the other double digit scorer, averaging 11.7 points per game. Harris took a lot of shots for the Blue Raiders. He was not as efficient as Potts either outside the arc or inside, but Harris was a dynamic 6-8 forward who could score in a lot of different ways. Losing Buford and Harris will hurt, but so does losing Jaqawn Raymond and Jacob Ivory. Raymond started 15 games during his senior season and averaged 5.3 points and 1.8 assists. He was always a great perimeter defender too. Ivory only played in 16 games as a sophomore, but he was having a good year. Of course, MTSU had plenty of success without him late in the year. The only other departure is little used Joshua Phillips.
Coach Davis will use the addition of four junior college transfers and Arkansas transfer Jacorey Williams to reload his roster. Williams played three seasons with the Razorbacks, culminating in the 2014-2015 campaign in which he averaged 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. The 6-8 senior is a great athlete who can attack the basket with ease. Williams has the size to play the five spot, but he is more of an athletic four. Brandon Walters, one of those junior college transfers, is a true post player. At Walters State Community College last season, the 6-10, 265 pound Chattanooga, Tennessee native averaged 13.4 points and 8.1 rebounds. The other junior college transfers, Calvin Davis, Antwain Johnson and Stephen Strachan, will add depth on the perimeter. Davis and Johnson in particular could play big roles if they are ready to step into backup point guard duties. The three freshmen on the roster are Tyrik Dixon, Chase Miller and Davion Thomas. Thomas is the important one to watch this year. The 6-9 forward is a big time shot blocking threat and either he or Walters must step up and be a force in the paint on both ends of the floor.
Who to Watch:
One key for Middle Tennessee this season will be getting production and leadership from players other than Potts and Upshaw. Quavius Copeland is one option. He averaged 4.7 points and 1.8 assists as a sophomore last season mostly off of the bench. This is Copeland’s team and he will have to run the point and at least be a steadying influence on both ends of the floor. Edward Simpson was a part-time starter last season and averaged 5.0 points. If his outside shooting improves, and it certainly should, Simpson could be in for a big year. Xavier Habersham is a very good shooter and the 6-6 senior can be more than a shooter off of the bench this year. Adonis Foote is another big senior wing who can knock down a few shots and attack the basket.
Coach Davis has a lot of options this year. The team will certainly revolve around Potts and Upshaw, but after that the scoring and production could be a lot more balanced than it was last season. There is a lot of talent in Conference USA again this year though and winning the regular season title will not be easy. Middle Tennessee did not win the regular season title last season and it worked out fine. This season will again come down to the conference tournament and by then this will be a team that has all of their pieces in place.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Quavius Copeland, Junior, Guard, 4.7 points per game
Giddy Potts, Junior, Guard, 14.9 points per game
Reggie Upshaw, Senior, Forward, 13.7 points per game
Jacorey Williams, Senior, Forward, DNP last season
Brandon Walters, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 72.5 (185th in nation, 9th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 68.9 (97, 2)
Field-Goal Percentage: 44.9 (126, 9)
Field-Goal Defense: 43.3 (160, 6)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.0 (84, 4)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 39.0 (16, 1)
Free-Throw Percentage: 61.6 (343, 14)
Rebound Margin: 2.0 (115, 5)
Assists Per Game: 13.0 (195, 9)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.0 (104, 2)