Who? The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee State. (Tangentially related fun fact that I refuse to relegate to the WNIT: you know there's an East Tennessee State, and a Middle Tennessee State, but did you ever wonder whether there was a West Tennessee State? Answer: there was- it's now the University of Memphis.)
What? MTSU picked up its nickname from the Red Raiders... of Colgate. (That's not the Red Raider school you were expecting, was it?) They're represented by a winged horse named Lightning who is supposed to represent the noble aspects of the school. (Paraphrasing here.)
Where? Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
When? Sunday the 20th, versus Georgia in Auburn.
Why? They had a good, if not up-to-par for MTSU, regular season. Then they lost in perfunctory fashion in the Sun Belt quarterfinals. Had they not lost Tina Stewart and remained the team that always knocks on the door, they would probably be higher than an 11.
How? They were an at-large selection from the Sun Belt conference.
Surprise? At the beginning of the season, not as much. By the end of the season, yes- and I'm not sure how pleasant a surprise it was.
Who's driving this thing, anyway? Rick Insell, since 2005. His roots run deep in Tennessee.
Record: 23-7 (14-2 Sun Belt)
Best win: James Madison (H)
Worst loss: Florida International (A)
Notable results: Arkansas (L, A, 77-50), Xavier (L, H, 65-52), Kentucky (L, A, 81-72). Damnit, it looked like they were really hitting their stride before it all hit the fan.
This is not a Blue Raider team in the mold of the past, with an overpowering scorer making national waves the way Chrissy Givens, Amber Holt, or Alysha Clark did. This is a Blue Raider team with only two seniors and one junior left on the roster. Freshman forward Ebony Rowe, averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds, looks to be on the way to being the next big thing out of MTSU. The Blue Raiders also rely on the steadying hand and three-point shooting of senior guard Anne Marie Lanning.