Wait a second: a high-quality non-conference game between two talented mid-majors during the dead week? Is this a prank?
No, this is a real game? Amazing.
This is the beginning of a tough six game stretch for the Bruins: After tonight, they go to Kansas, host a good South Dakota State team, and play in the UCF Holiday tournament in Florida. And then, conference play is here, and starts with a two-game road trip.
This stretch will make or break Belmont’s at-large chances (which are in a bit of trouble already with two losses)
Here’s today’s First Word:
Middle Tennessee State (7-2) at Belmont (6-2)
6:00 p.m. CST – ESPN 3
Players to Watch
G Kerron Johnson (13.9 ppg, 4.8 apg)
F Trevor Noack (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F Shawn Jones (10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
The Matchup: Two very-good mid-major teams from Tennessee meet up in Nashville, with nearly identical records. MTSU is coming off a win at home against Ole Miss, ending their six game winning streak. The Blue Raiders have also taken on No. 5 Florida, losing by double digits on the road.
Belmont has played a very tough schedule, with losses to Virginia Commonwealth (An okay loss) and Northeastern. (Not as much) Ian Clark has taken control of the Bruins, coming off a 30-point performance against rival Lispcomb. Clark is second in the OVC in scoring, and leading the conference in three-point shooting.
The Blue Raiders have the edge: on a cold shooting night. MTSU is a good rebounding team that doesn’t a lot of threes. If neither team is shooting well, MTSU has the slightly better big men to have a chance to take control of the game.
Their defense has been great at closing in on opposing guards this year, holding opponents to 30% shooting behind the arc. They’ll face a challenge tonight: Belmont is currently 4th in the nation shooting 43.6% from three point range.
The Bruins have the edge: if they speed up Middle Tennessee. Belmont forces 18 turnovers a game, and has the speed to get out in transition. Johnson and J.J. Mann average almost four steals a game between them.
Middle Tennessee’s defense is a bit soft in the paint, which could benefit Noack and Blake Jenkings, and even Johnson who likes to drive the ball from the perimeter.
The game hinges on: the free throw line. Both teams shoot just 68%, but both teams commit more than 21 fouls a game, both in the bottom-50 in the nation. Both teams could get a lot of chances at the charity stripe.