Middle Tennessee Men’s Basketball Coach Kermit Davis announced Wednesday a 12-game non-conference schedule for the 2017-18 season that features three Southeastern Conference opponents and as many as eight teams that competed in either the NCAA Tournament or National Invitational Tournament in 2017.
The Blue Raiders are coming off a 2016-17 season in which they boasted the 19th ranked non-conference strength of schedule in the nation to go along with 26th ranked non-conference RPI. Davis looks to continue building his program on a national level with the challenging non-conference slate that includes four road games and four neutral site games, three of which are a part of the 2017 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
“In setting up your non-conference schedule, you try to do so through the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee,” Davis said. “We sure have an opportunity to be an at-large team and we’re going to schedule just like one.
“Last year we had one of the very best non-conference schedules in the country and I think this one is even more difficult and more competitive than last year.”
A short road trip to Vanderbilt plus a home-and-home series with Florida Gulf Coast provide the Raiders with three tests against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams while they could also potentially face Southern California, Miami, Princeton or New Mexico State in the Diamond Head Classic.
Home contests against Ole Miss and Belmont give Blue Raider fans a chance to see a pair of 2017 NIT teams in the Murphy Center while Diamond Head Classic participant Akron also made a trip to the NIT a season ago.
After a Nov. 2 exhibition against Arkansas-Fort Smith gets MT back on the court, the season will officially begin on Nov. 10 with the Rutherford County Schools and Business Day game against Trevecca tipping off at 11:00 a.m.
“We thought this game was a huge success last year and I know all of the schools are participating this year 100 percent,” Davis stated. “We think we’ll have roughly around 6,000 county school kids, but would also like to make that a part of a businessman lunch special and hopefully have a sold out arena to start the season off.”
Davis and the Blue Raiders then start a three-game stretch of throwback rivalries with a road trip to Murray State on Nov. 13, a home game versus Belmont on Nov. 16 and another road contest at Tennessee State on Nov. 18.
“These are all very good RPI games for us and obviously we’ve had some unbelievable games against Belmont,” Davis said. “Tennessee State is a much improved program and is always tough on the road and then Murray State is another really good Ohio Valley team that should be right in the mix for that conference title.”
An intriguing home-and-home against fellow NCAA Tournament darling FGCU awaits the Blue Raiders next, as they host the Eagles on Nov. 21 and make the return trip to Fort Myers on Dec. 2 after a 10-day break during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“FGCU is an NCAA Tournament team that has everybody back and they’ll be the favorites to win their league again this season,” Davis stated. “It will be another great RPI match-up for both teams and they do a great job drawing fans at their place and we expect the same when they come to Murfreesboro.”
Middle Tennessee will make a day trip to Nashville on Dec. 6 for the first of three consecutive SEC contests spanning 11 days. The contest will be the second of three in the series after the Raiders downed the Commodores, 71-48, last season in Murfreesboro.
Three days later on Dec. 9 MT will host Ole Miss in the second meeting of a four-game series, also taking down the Rebels last season with a 77-62 win in Oxford.
The Raiders then take on Auburn on Dec. 16 in a neutral site game at Birmingham’s Legacy Arena, a building in which the Blue Raiders are very comfortable playing after winning each of the last two Conference USA Championships at the same venue.
“Three games against Power Five teams is great for us, but also having one at home, one on the road and one at a neutral site is a really great mixture, and I truly believe that all three of these teams will be NCAA Tournament teams,” Davis expressed. “Auburn had one of the best recruiting classes in college basketball, Ole Miss is a 2017 NIT team that will be very much improved and Vanderbilt is another NCAA Tournament team from last season. What is also great about those three high-profile games is that our fans can see them all.”
Middle Tennessee closes out the non-conference slate with a holiday trip to Honolulu where it will play three contests as part of the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 22, 23 and 25. The other seven participants include USC, Miami, Akron, Davidson, Hawaii, New Mexico State and Princeton.
“I think this will be one of the top two or three exempt tournament events in the country,” Davis said. “All the games are televised on ESPN with a couple of Top 10 teams in USC and Miami. The host team, Hawaii, always plays great in that tournament. When you look at the field, there are teams that are going to NCAA Tournaments and winning conference championships year after year.
“We think this tournament will really help us and have some very competitive games, but as far as scheduling and helping your brand grow with national exposure, the Diamond Head Classic is about as good as it gets.”
The league portion of Middle Tennessee’s 2017-18 schedule will be announced by the Conference USA office in early July.