Entering the season, Kermit Davis didn’t know exactly what to expect with so many transfers (four of them starters this year) joining his program. But the newcomers and veterans have blended to form one of the most surprising success stories in college basketball.
The Blue Raiders have won 12 games in a row. And they received a combined 37 votes in the most recent ESPN coaches' (28) and Associated Press (nine) polls.
Today’s 2 p.m. ET matchup at Vanderbilt, another squad moving toward the Top 25, is the biggest contest of the season for Davis’ squad thus far. The Commodores (Nashville) are about a 40-minute drive from Middle Tennessee’s Murfreesboro campus.
“I think it’s a great position to be in in late January to be playing this kind of game,” he told ESPN.com. “Obviously a win could do wonders for your RPI and just thinking about March, if you don’t win your conference tournament.”
Davis could significantly upgrade his team’s recruiting prospects with a win over the 5-1 SEC squad. Plus, a victory could help the Sun Belt leader contend for an at-large bid in March. The Blue Raiders’ 49 percent clip from the field is the 12th-best mark in America. They’re ranked 37th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
“It’s a really good game. It’s a good game for Vanderbilt. Our RPI (No. 60) is higher than some SEC teams they’ll play,” Davis said. “Obviously, it’s attracted some national attention and it’s terrific for us. When that happens, it helps recruiting all over the country. … I think this will be the most hostile atmosphere we’ve gone into.”
Davis said Middle Tennessee has thousands of alumni in Nashville, so he expects some support for the Blue Raiders. That’s assuming those fans can find a way to get into the game.
“This game, there’s not a ticket on Stub Hub,” Davis said. “You can’t find one.”
Middle Tennessee has a five-game deal with Vanderbilt. But the Blue Raiders only received one home game out of the arrangement, a 72-53 loss to Vanderbilt last season. But this is why mid-majors sign up for these uneven deals. Today, Middle Tennessee finds itself in a position to enhance its NCAA tourney résumé and elevate the entire program with a win.
“When you’re at our level, sometimes you have to sell your souls,” he said.