Upshaw, Middle Tennessee advance again at NCAA Tournament

Certainly not the rest of Conference USA, whose futility chased them all season. That scrappy team that upended pre-tournament favorite Michigan State as a 15-seed a year ago?

The Wildcats were celebrating in their locker room like you can’t imagine. “We’re going to use (Thursday’s loss) as motivation in every drill and every practice to try to get back here”. It’s quieter this year.

Upshaw said he was ready for the biggest shot of the game.

“It wasn’t a disappointment because we were glad to be in the tournament”, Davis said. Then, with shot-blocking Minnesota big man Reggie Lynch on the bench in foul trouble early in the second half, Middle repeatedly attacked the vacated paint for dunks and layups while building a 17-point lead. It’s the second straight year they disposed of nationally recognized teams, having taken down No. 2 seed Michigan State in last year’s tournament. And if not for a brutal gaffe by Vanderbilt (9) guard Matthew Fisher-Davis, Northwestern (8) might have found themselves going home nearly as quickly as they arrived.

The Blue Raiders led by six at the half and built a 17-point lead in final 20 minutes. “This year will be different”, Potts vowed. “It shows how much I’ve improved as a player, and it’s not just me”.

And that’s the thing that makes this year’s Middle Tennessee team a real threat to make an extended run in this tournament.

The Blue Raiders out-rebounded the Gophers 37-24. Butler coach Chris Holtmann.

Virginia Tech made Wisconsin sweat up until the last couple minutes; 16-seed Mount St. Mary’s gave Villanova one helluva first half.

An ironic match it will be. Middle Tennessee’s winning wasn’t any upset or fluke.

“I felt like our (1-3-1) was probably the reason we won today”, senior Reggie Upshaw said. And their guard depth was so depleted by the end of the season that Pitino had few options to relieve his three starting guards, admitting Thursday, “We ran out of gas”.

Meanwhile, remember when Butler was its own cuddly fantasy story? “We’ve done a lot of scouting on them. But we love it”. Head coach Kermit Davis’s team has an offensive rating of 112.5 (32nd in the country) and a defensive rating of 95.0 (28th), the type of balanced profile you would expect from a high-major team in one of the top four seed lines. “I’ll take away that”. “My biggest goal was trying to get our program to be like Butler”. The Bulldogs are 14-14-2 against the over/under for the season. It should be known that.

From 1985, the year the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams, through 2016, 148 teams seeded 11th through 15th won their first round games.

Many Butler fans know this as the game in which future National Basketball Association star Gordon Hayward missed a half-court shot by a couple inches to lose the game to Duke Blue Devils. So it kind of sounds like David vs. Goliath, who used to be David.

The Gophers shot 46 percent compared with 48 percent for Middle Tennessee.

Butler senior Andrew Chrabascz said the Bulldogs have seen some 1-3-1 this year against Marquette and Xavier. “Some of the teams respect us now”. He now has a team with some high-major talent and an elite guard in T.J. Cromer, and he’ll be going up against a Florida team that is missing their starting center. “Whether they’re a 12 seed or any number of seed, I don’t really know how to answer that question”.

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