As of Monday, March 18, 2013
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Gwinnett Daily Post
Preview: Saint Mary's vs. Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee's best season in its history will include a trip to the NCAA Tournament, despite losing in the Sun Belt semifinals. The Blue Raiders earned their first bid in 24 years and will play Saint Mary's in the first round on Tuesday at Dayton. The winner plays Memphis on Thursday in the second round of the Midwest Region. Middle Tennessee broke the team record for wins, which included a team-best 17 straight. The Blue Raiders, who beat Mississippi in December, are balanced offensively and have limited opponents to 57.8 points.
Three of the six losses for Saint Mary's came against No. 1 Gonzaga. The Gaels, who have reached the NCAAs four of the last six years, likely punched their ticket by beating Creighton on Feb. 23. The team's all-time leading scorer, Matthew Dellavedova, is the key for a productive Saint Mary's offense.
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ABOUT MIDDLE TENNESSEE (28-5): The last time the Blue Raiders made the NCAA Tournament, they upset Florida State in the first round. Middle Tennessee owns a plus-six rebounding margin and has made 37.8 percent of its 3-point shots. Marcos Knight is the only player scoring in double figures (12.5) and also leads the team in rebounds (5.8). Raymond Cintron, who was held scoreless in the last game against Florida International, is the top 3-point threat (44 percent) and Bruce Massey was the league's defensive player of the year.
ABOUT SAINT MARY'S (27-6): The Gaels haven't lost to another team other than Gonzaga since before Christmas. Saint Mary's can score and Dellavedova leads the way, averaging 15.8 points and 6.4 assists. The 6-4 senior guard will have to turn it around after making just 3-of-20 shots in the WCC tournament. Stephen Holt, Beau Levesque and Brad Waldow - all underclassmen - average in double figures to add support. Levesque has made 47.4 percent from behind the 3-point arc, where the Gaels have converted 262 shots - most in the WCC and in the top 25 in the nation.
Middle Tennessee has won a school-record 11 road games each of the last two seasons.
Dellavedova is also the Gaels' all-time leader in assists and can break the single-season mark of 213 with two more.
Saint Mary's reached the regional semifinals in 2010 before losing to Baylor.
PREDICTION: Middle Tennessee 70, Saint Mary's 66.