CUSA Busts NCAA Bracket Again as Middle Tennessee Shocks Michigan State
For each of the last two years, the NCAA Selection Committee has completely discounted Conference USA. Instead of getting blown out in their first round games, CUSA's lone representative has shocked the college basketball world and broken most NCAA Tournament brackets. In 2015 it was 14-seed UAB upsetting 3-seed Iowa State 60-59 in the South Region. Today, 15-seed Middle Tennessee dominated Michigan State early and hung on for the 90-81 win over the 2-seed Spartans. The win busted most brackets (myself included) and ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg Tweeted that it could go down as one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
Now, I will be the first to agree with Greeny that Michigan State deserved to be a #1 seed, especially over a team like Oregon. However, what one half of ESPN Radio's morning team does not understand is that CUSA's upper echelon can play with anyone in the country. UAB was given no respect last year when they were seeded 14th and even this season, the Blazers won the CUSA regular season title but landed a 7-seed in the NIT when they were upset in the quarterfinals of the CUSA Tournament.
Middle Tennessee has won 24 games this season, including a hard-fought 78-72 victory over UTEP two months ago. Like a lot of CUSA schools, MTSU slipped up in league play, but it was against schools like UAB, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, and Western Kentucky. Those programs, along with the Miners are in the top half of CUSA most seasons. However, the league's bottom seven teams are so bad from and RPI standpoint that they bring the rest of the conference down with them. When people look at the Blue Raiders, they don't see a team that was battle tested. Instead, they think that another Norfolk State, Coppin, State, or Hampton; other 15-seeds that have shocked 2-seeds in the last 20 years.
Sadly, it doesn't appear that CUSA's perception as a mediocre mid major league will change despite the two upsets in consecutive NCAA Tournaments. As long as schools like FIU get slaughtered while playing their guaranteed money games in the non conference to help cover their budgets, CUSA will always remain nothing more than a one-bid league. It's too bad that UTEP didn't get out three years ago and jump to the Mountain West Conference when they had the chance.