Gophers vs. Middle Tennessee

3 p.m. Thursday • TNT, 1500-AM • Milwaukee; South Region • Line: MTSU by 1

 

The fifth-seeded Gophers (24-9) are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013. They have their highest NCAA seed since receiving a No. 1 seed during the 1997 Final Four run. No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State (30-4) is favored by a point. The Blue Raiders, who were 17-1 in Conference USA this season, defeated No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round last year. Longtime coach Kermit Davis’ team has won 20 of the past 21 games, which included the conference tournament title.

Players to watch

Gophers: Nate Mason was the program’s first All-Big Ten first-team player since 2005, averaging 17.2 points during league play and leading the team in assists (5.0), steals (1.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7). Jordan Murphy is averaging 11.2 points. Center Reggie Lynch was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and guard Amir Coffey made the all-freshman team.

Middle Tennessee: Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw combined for 40 points in the Blue Raiders’ upset of Michigan State last year. Potts, a junior guard, has two 30-point performances in his past four games. Upshaw and Conference USA player of the year JaCorey Williams form a dominant frontcourt tandem, averaging 32 points and 14 rebounds a game combined.

Key numbers

78-72: Score of the last meeting between the teams, during the NIT in 2012 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The Gophers won.

111: Shots blocked by Reggie Lynch this season, which is more than MTSU’s team (97).

.882: Middle Tennessee’s winning percentage this season, ranking behind only Villanova and Gonzaga.

1: Losses by the Blue Raiders in 2017. That was to Texas-El Paso on Feb. 4.

Injuries

Gophers senior guard Akeem Springs, a graduate transfer from Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is out for the season with a right Achilles’ tendon injury.

The Blue Raiders reported no injuries.

 

Bottom line: The Gophers have read and watched since Sunday how they should lose Thursday after what Middle Tennessee did to Michigan State last season. But even the Blue Raiders know they aren’t sneaking up on anybody this time.

Prediction: Gophers 74, MTSU 69.

MARCUS FULLER