Arkansas State (13-19) vs. Middle Tennessee (25-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, March 4, 7:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Summit Arena (6,000) -- Hot Springs, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: ASU 10-5, MT 14-1. Away Record: ASU 2-14, MT 10-4. Neutral Record: ASU 1-0, MT 1-0. Conference Record: ASU 6-11, MT 14-2. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 14-12.
GAME NOTES: The ninth-seeded Arkansas State Red Wolves have advanced past the first round of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament and they will now play the No. 1 seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the quarterfinals tonight.
Arkansas State has had a sub par season overall at 13-19, but it was still able to win its first-round matchup against eight-seeded Florida Atlantic in convincing fashion, 70-55. The Red Wolves turned things around on Friday night after faltering in their last two regular-season games.
At 25-5 overall, Middle Tennessee is one of the nation's top mid-major teams, and its 14-2 conference mark earned it the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title, the No. 1 seed in this tourney, and a first-round bye. It marks the first time the Blue Raiders have been the top seed since joining the Sun Belt in time for the 2000-01 season, and they have gone 12-11 in the conference tournament since. They are coming off a loss in their regular-season finale to Western Kentucky, but they had little to play for as they had already locked up first place.
Middle Tennessee has a slight advantage on the all-time series with Arkansas State, 14-12, including a win in the only meeting this season, 59-46 on Jan. 19 in Murfreesboro.
Arkansas State struggled from the floor in its first-round win, shooting just 20-of-49, but it was able to make up for it by having a stellar night at the free-throw line, connecting on 27-of-38. The Red Wolves' defense also made a stand, holding Florida Atlantic to just 55 points on 35.6 percent field goal efficiency. ASU had four players score in double figures, paced by Marcus Hooten with 23 points. Hooten (11.9 ppg) is a part of an impressive starting five, all of whom average at least 9.1 ppg. Malcoln Kirkland is the Red Wolves' leading performer with 12.1 ppg, and he shoots extremely well from the field (.572). Trey Finn adds 11.0 ppg to the mix and Brandon Peterson rips down 7.9 rpg, second-best in the conference. Despite its balanced approach on offense, ASU ranks just eighth in the Sun Belt in scoring (64.3 ppg).
Middle Tennessee is led by its star center LaRon Dendy, who was recently named the 2011-12 Sun Belt Player of the Year, the team's first since 1982 when it was still part of the Ohio Valley Conference. Dendy was a monster across the stat sheet for the Blue Raiders, tallying 14.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.6 bpg, all while shooting an impressive 54.2 percent from the floor. They are far from a one-man team however, as Marcos Knight (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.9 apg) was named to the All-SBC Second Team, and JT Sulton (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) earned Third-Team honors. Simply put, MT has been stellar all season, leading the conference in scoring (72.3 ppg) while ranking third nationally in field goal percentage (.498). The squad's defensive effort has been solid as well, giving up just 61.5 ppg and 39.1 percent field goal shooting to its opponents. The Blue Raiders are led by head coach Kermit Davis, who was named the conference's coach of the year and is one win shy of 250 in his Division I coaching career.
Though Arkansas State showed some promise in the first round, this is where its run will end. Middle Tennessee has been far too impressive at both ends of the floor, and even a sub par showing by the Blue Raiders' standards should be enough to defeat the Red Wolves.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 76, Arkansas State 64
03/04 10:37:27 ET