— MT Athletics (@MTAthletics) March 2, 2018
The 24th-ranked Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will play host to Marshall on Saturday, having already clinched the Conference USA regular-season championship.
Heading into the regular-season finale for both teams, the Blue Raiders have locked up the No. 1 seed in next week’s C-USA tournament.
Middle Tennessee doesn’t have any motivation in that regard.
But it does have an opportunity to show once again that it belongs in the NCAA tournament field no matter what happens next week in Frisco.
The Blue Raiders certainly lived up to their billing Thursday night.
They trounced a good Western Kentucky team 82-64 in front of 11,307 boisterous fans in Murfreesboro.
“It was electric,” Blue Raiders coach Kermit Davis said, via the Associated Press.
“I’ve said it ever since we’ve been ranked — and I don’t say it boastfully, I just say it honestly — that we look and play and prepare like a Top 25 team.
“And everybody asks me the question, ‘How are your guys going to handle it?’ The more success, the more motivation.”
Middle Tennessee (24-5, 16-1) toyed with Western Kentucky (22-8, 14-3).
The front line combination of Brandon Walters and Nick King produced 36 points and 20 rebounds.
There isn’t a team in the conference that can handle the Blue Raiders when those two are playing at that level.
“Brandon Walters is playing like an elite center in college basketball,” Davis said. “When Brandon plays like that, we can play with a lot of people in college basketball.”
One team in the conference cheering for Middle Tennessee on Saturday is UTSA.
Seeking a bye in the first round of the tournament, the Roadrunners need to win on the road against Rice and also have Middle Tennessee register a victory against Marshall.
Such a scenario would produce a tie for fourth in the standings between UTSA and Marshall.
UTSA subsequently would get the No. 4 seed and the bye based on an 81-77 victory over Marshall in San Antonio on Feb. 1.
Rice also enters the final weekend with something on the line — a shot at making the 12-team tournament in spite of a 23-loss regular season.
The Owls need a win over the Roadrunners and a UTEP loss at North Texas to claim the No. 12 seed.
Middle Tennessee 16-1, 24-5
Old Dominion 14-3, 23-6
Western Kentucky 14-3, 22-8
Marshall 11-6, 20-10
UTSA 10-7, 17-13
UAB 9-8, 18-12
North Texas 8-9, 15-15
FIU 8-9, 14-16
Louisiana Tech 7-10 16-14
Southern Miss 6-11, 13-17
Florida Atlantic 6-11, 12-17
UTEP 5-12, 10-19
Rice 4-13, 7-23
Charlotte 1-16, 5-23
Louisiana Tech at Southern Miss, 4 p.m.
UTEP at North Texas, 5 p.m.
FIU at Old Dominion, 6 p.m.
Marshall at Middle Tennessee, 6 p.m.
FAU at Charlotte, 6:30 p.m.
WKU at UAB, 7 p.m.
UTSA at Rice, 7 p.m.