Gaels vs. Blue Raiders: NCAA Basketball Preview at YouWager

St. Mary’s Gaels vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Tip-off: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 – 9:10 PM ET

University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, OH

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders almost never lose their way when they leave their Murphy Center home. In a way, YouWager experts consider it’s fitting that this college basketball team had to pack for a couple extra days. Their prowess away from home was the overriding quality that landed them in the field of 68 as part of the First Four in Dayton.

Middle Tennessee (28-5) was a bubble team after suffering an upset in the semifinals of the Sun Belt tournament, leading to a long and uneasy wait in Murfreesboro for that NCAA selection show. The committee looked them over, measured them versus the other candidates for the final spots, and honed in on how they did when they were staying at a hotel.

The Blue Raiders went 11-3 away from home, including overtime defeat at Akron and at Arkansas State. They were 1-2 at neutral sites, 16-0 at home. The 11 victories on the road are second-most in the country.

Middle Tennessee didn’t lose two games in a row all season, a mark of consistency. They won 21 out of 22 games during one stretch, the only defeat coming in overtime versus the Arkansas State Red Wolves.

That helped the Blue Raiders get a No. 11 seed — matching the highest in school history — and their first berth in the NCAA tournament since 1989. This team has one of the most experienced rosters in the tournament — 13 juniors and seniors — and a bench that provides 42 percent of Middle Tennessee’s playing time.

The Gaels (27-6) are just glad to get away from foe Gonzaga Bulldogs, which were No. 1 in the final AP college basketball poll on Monday and got the top seed in the West Regional. This team lost to the Zags three times during the season, which included the conference tournament.

Saint Mary’s lost only three times in their final 22 games this season, all three of them versus the Bulldogs.

Luckily for bettors following the Gaels the Zags are back in Salt Lake City while the St. Mary’s is in Dayton, making an NCAA appearance for the third time in four years. They reached the round of 16 in 2010 before losing against the Baylor Bears, missed out in 2011, and made it back last season, losing to Purdue 72-69 in their opening game.