Why the MTSU hype?

No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee is a popular pick to upset the fifth-seeded Gophers, and here’s why:

They’re hot: The Blue Raiders have won 20 of their past 21 games.

Tourney cred: As a No. 15 seed, Middle Tennessee pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history last year, ending No. 2 seed Michigan State’s national title hopes early.

Junior guard Giddy Potts and senior forward Reggie Upshaw, key players in that game, are back.

Star player: JaCorey Williams, who transferred from Arkansas, is a 6-8 handful for opponents.

Conference USA’s MVP is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.

Not afraid: Vanderbilt is a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. MTSU beat Vandy by 23 in the regular season, proving its ability to run with the big schools wasn’t a one-time thing.