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December 28, 2011The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Men's basketball team has looked very impressive this season during their out-of-conference schedule leading to an 11-2 record that has made them one of the hottest teams in the country, but now it is time for conference play.
In the Sun Belt, conference play can make or break whether you make it in to the big dance at the end of the season. MT will host the Florida International Golden Panthers (3-9) inside the Murphy Center Thursday night. Florida International doesn't have a great record, but they are a scary team who has played their best ball against top teams. Tipoff is set for 7:00 PM CT.
The Blue Raiders are coming of a huge win against Ole Miss, which tied Kermit Davis for the most wins in school history. MT started off hot, but cooled down as they trailed by one going into halftime. The 2nd half was a whole different story as the Blue Raiders took it to the Rebels, winning 68-56.
This win completed one of the best non-conference records for MT in school history, and solidified them a team to beat in the Sun Belt Conference.
If MT can pull out the win Thursday, Davis will stand alone at the top of the all-time wins list in Middle Tennessee history.
Keys to the Game:
The Blue Raiders enter the game Thursday riding a three-game win streak, as well as a three-game win streak against the Golden Panthers, and will need to do a few key things to make it four in a row.
The first thing MT will need to do is to continue shooting the ball well. The Blue Raiders average 76 points a game, while shooting 52% from the field - ranking them 1st in the nation. They have been able to stretch that out to behind the 3-point line, where they shoot 41% - ranking 14th in the nation. If MT can keep their hot shooting going they will be a hard team to beat. They have gotten there by utilizing their passing game to create good looks at the basket. This will have to continue going forward.
The Blue Raiders will need to do a better job protecting the ball against Florida International. The Golden Panthers average almost nine steals a game, which might be the best thing they do as a team. Turnovers at times have killed MT with almost 15 a game. This is one thing the Blue Raiders will need to work on as they enter conference play.
Lastly, MT stills need to work on their free throws. The team is ranked 298th in the nation, shooting just 62% from the charity stripe. Missing easy shots at the free throw line can cost you games, but when the team is on at the line is can be the reason for a win. The Blue Raiders will need to work out this problem sooner than later to make it easier for them to win the Thursday.
Players to Watch:
C LaRon Dendy 14.5 PPG 6.4 RPG 1.7 BPG
G Marcos Knight 13.2 PPG 5.5 RPG 1.8 SPG
G DeJuan Wright 15.9 PPG 6.7RPG 1.7 SPG
G Jeremy Allen 12.6 PPG 3SPG
Prediction - Middle Tennessee 77 Florida International 60:
Look for the Blue Raiders to start hot and stay that way as they build a big lead and hold on to it to push their win streak to four games and start off conference play with a W. MT is 16-3 against FIU under Kermit Davis, and should be able to extend that record out in front of the home crowd.
Middle Tennessee NEWS