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Minnesota

vs.

Middle Tennessee

1st round

March Madness Pick

3/16/17

This is a classic 5-12 matchup with Minnesota getting seeded a little higher than expected and Middle Tennessee State a little lower than expected. And so, the line was down to a pick 'em as early as Monday as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.

Everyone knows the story of the Blue Raiders after they upset Michigan State a season ago and that's a main reason this is a pick 'em. While they have some bad losses this season, they have wins against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, UNC Wilmington and Belmont. They battled at VCU and lost that one by only three points. Middle Tennessee has two of its best players from last year in Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw, but also Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams, who leads the team in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 reb). But the reason they beat Michigan State last season was that everyone on the court could shoot and Williams doesn't have that capability. He'll likely be matched up with Reggie Lynch, while Upshaw gets Jordan Murphy.

The problem for Minnesota is that it lost Akeem Springs to an Achilles injury in its first game of the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers had a great season and went on an eight-game winning streak late in the campaign. As of note, they also beat Vanderbilt on a neutral court 56-52, five days before MTSU beat the Commodores 71-48 at home. Without Springs, the Gophers are lacking depth with Dupree McBrayer forced to play 40 minutes at shooting guard in their most recent game. McBrayer averages under 28 minutes per game on the season, so that's extremely relevant.

The way Minnesota will win this game is on the defensive end starting with Lynch and Murphy. Both those guys have the strength and length to deal with Williams and Upshaw. But the biggest thing may be for Lynch to make Williams work on the defensive end, which isn't out of the question. And unlike Michigan State last year, Minnesota has the defense to deal with whatever Middle Tennessee throws at them. Amir Coffey provides size and athleticism, while McBrayer and Nate Mason have the quickness to keep up with Potts and anyone else on the perimeter.

The Blue Raiders are a popular upset pick, but even without Springs, the Gophers have the defensive players to win this game. On the other end, Middle Tennessee tends to get into foul trouble a decent amount, while Minnesota has guys like Mason and Coffey that can get to the hoop with ease. Of course, if Potts and Upshaw are hitting all the same shots that they did against the Spartans last season, then they'll be headed for another win. But against a better defense, that may not be the case. Mason should have his way offensively, while Murphy and Lynch will keep MTSU's frontcourt players active on both ends of the court. Coffey could end up being the difference with his frame that not many can match on Middle Tennessee.

The Blue Raiders are a hot team to pick as an upset, but surprisingly, the Gophers probably supply the better value in this matchup given their ability on the defensive end and strength of getting to the free-throw line.

Our Pick - Minnesota pk

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