Arkansas-Little Rock (12-13) at Middle Tennessee (22-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, February 11th, 1:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Murphy Center (11,802) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: UALR 7-5, MT 12-1. Away Record: UALR 5-7, MT 9-3. Neutral Record: UALR 0-1, MT 1-0. Conference Record: UALR 9-2, MT 11-1. Series Record: Arkansas-Little Rock leads, 13-8.
GAME NOTES: The two division leaders in the Sun Belt Conference square off in what may be a post-season preview, as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play host to the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans at the Murphy Center this afternoon.
Middle Tennessee is enjoying the best season of any team in the Sun Belt with a 22-4 record, and it has built a four and a half game lead in the East Division standings with an 11-1 league ledger. The Blue Raiders have slipped up twice in the past four games, losing at Vanderbilt and at Denver, but got back on track on Thursday night against Western Kentucky, winning 72-64.
UALR's peculiar season has made it one of the most fascinating teams in the country. Though they have just a 12-13 record overall, the Trojans have been on fire in conference play, winning nine of 11 Sun Belt games en route to their first-place standing in the West Division. They are currently riding a season-long, four-game win streak, culminating in a crucial 72-72 overtime triumph over second-place Louisiana on Thursday.
UALR leads the all-time series, 13-8, which includes two straight wins over Middle Tennessee.
Not surprisingly, Middle Tennessee boasts the top-ranked offense in the conference (71.8 ppg, .489 field goal percentage) as well as the number one defense (61.2 ppg, .386 field goal percentage against), resulting in a scoring margin of +10.7. Though Thursday's game was closer than the Blue Raiders wanted it to be due to a lackluster 38.8 percent shooting effort, the defense stepped up by allowing Western Kentucky to connect on only 33.8 percent of its total shots and forced 14 turnovers. LaRon Dendy had a career night in the victory, scoring 26 points and grabbing 14 rebounds for his fifth double- double of the season. On the year, Dendy ranks in the top five in the conference in scoring (14.4 ppg), rebounding (7.0 rpg) and blocks (1.7 bpg), while shooting 51.8 percent from the floor. Marcos Knight (12 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and JT Sulton (10.9 ppg 5.7 rpg) do their part in helping out a balanced scoring attack. Though it connects on 35.6 percent of its three-point attempts, Middle Tennessee has only connected on 124 long-range buckets on the season, fourth-worst in the conference.
While UALR has one of the worst scoring offenses in the Sun Belt (62.8 ppg), it has been carried during this impressive run by its third-ranked defense, which allows opponents to net just 63.7 ppg on 42 percent field goal efficiency. The defensive effort was again top-notch in the recent win over Louisiana, as the Cajuns shot just 40.4 percent from the floor while committing 17 turnovers. D'Andre Williams tallied a career-high 24 points and while he averages a stellar 12.4 ppg on the season, he has been even more impressive of late, netting 18 ppg over the last five games. The senior also ranks fourth in the conference in assists (4.2 apg) and steals (1.8 spg). Chuck Guy (10.4 ppg) and Will Neighbour (10.3 ppg) pose as threats from the outside, contributing more than a three-pointer per game each. UALR is not a strong squad on the glass, sporting a rebounding margin of -1.9.
Though UALR has exceeded expectations thus far, it is going to have its hands full in Murfreesboro where Middle Tennessee has lost just once all season. The Trojans are sure to make it interesting, but expect the Blue Raiders to prevail.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 72, Arkansas-Little Rock 66
02/11 10:44:02 ET