Middle Tennessee became the ninth 12-seed in the last five years to defeat a 5-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with an 81-72 win over Minnesota on Thursday. It’s also the second straight year that the Blue Raiders defeated a Big Ten foe in the first round, after stunning Michigan State last year as a 15-seed.
However, to bill this as an upset is a bit disingenuous. The Blue Raiders opened as a slight underdog in Vegas, but by the tip-off, they were a one to one-and-a-half point favorite over the Golden Gophers. Middle Tennessee fell behind early, but stormed back and controlled the game throughout the second half, en route to the decisive win (and cover).
The Blue Raiders were only the seventh 12-seed to be favored over a 5-seed, per ESPN Chalk, and were the first since 1999 when Rhode Island was a one-point favorite and lost to Charlotte. The fact that no 12-seed has been favored and won in at least 18 years makes the Blue Raiders’ accomplishment all that more impressive. Part of what makes lower seeds so dangerous is that they often are underestimated by their opponent or, at the least, an unknown commodity. Middle Tennessee was not a team Minnesota could be surprised by, as the Blue Raiders were favored and have a similar roster to last year’s team that beat Michigan State.
Next up for Middle Tennessee is Butler, who cruised past Winthrop in their 4-13 matchup earlier on Thursday. The Blue Raiders will look to one-up last year’s performance by making it to the Sweet 16 this season.