Middle Tennessee (11-3) at Arkansas State (8-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 3, 8:05 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Convocation Center (10,563) -- Jonesboro, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: MTSU 8-0, ASU 5-1. Away Record: MTSU 3-2, ASU 3-4. Neutral Record: MTSU 0-1, ASU 0-0. Conference Record: MTSU 3-0, ASU 2-2. Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads, 14-13.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will attempt to stay perfect in Sun Belt Conference action on Thursday night, as they pull into Jonesboro to square off with the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Middle Tennessee has played its last seven games in its home state, and it has taken full advantage with wins in six of them, most recently beating Sun Belt foes FIU (69-52) and North Texas (75-57) over the holiday weekend to move to 3-0 in conference. The Blue Raiders have shown vulnerability outside of Murfreesboro however, combining to go just 3-3 in true road and neutral-site affairs.
After losing its first two league games to FIU (80-61) and Florida Atlantic (72-65) a few weeks back, Arkansas State has moved to .500 in the SBC with back-to-back wins over Louisiana (87-70) and South Alabama (63-54). Overall, the Red Wolves are a solid 8-5 on the year, with their best non-conference win coming over St. Bonaventure on Dec. 8 in a 73-70 final.
Arkansas State won the last matchup between these two programs, downing the top-seeded Blue Raiders in the second round of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Still, Middle Tennessee holds to a slim 14-13 advantage in the all-time series.
Middle Tennessee led wire-to-wire in its most recent victory over North Texas, shooting 50.8 percent from the field while holding the Mean Green to just 33.9 percent. In typical Blue Raider fashion, a balanced effort was implemented, with 10 different players scoring points and only Marcos Knight (12 points) and Raymond Cintron (11 points) reaching double figures. They have been remarkably well-balanced this season, as not only do they outscore their opponents by a plus-10.9 margin (first in the Sun Belt), but they outrebound them by nearly 6.0 rpg and sport a plus-2.7 turnover margin as well. Knight leads the way with 12.1 ppg, and Shawn Jones chips in with 10.1 ppg while posting team-highs in both rebounding (6.5 rpg) and blocks (0.9 bpg). Middle Tennessee relies on a deep rotation of players, with 10 guys averaging at least 3.8 ppg.
Although Arkansas State shot a disappointing 38.2 percent from the field in its last outing, it was able to hold on for the solid conference road victory by putting together one of its best defensive performances of the season in holding South Alabama to a mere 27.4 percent shooting effort. Brandon Peterson and Rakeem Dickerson paced the squad with 15 points apiece, while Ed Townsel came in just shy of a double-double by tallying nine points and nine rebounds. The Red Wolves haven't been a particularly strong shooting squad, as they make 41.7 percent of their field goal attempts, but thanks to the league's best turnover margin (plus-3.85), they're able to keep a plus-5.0 scoring advantage on their opponents. Townsel is the team's leading scorer, netting 16.2 ppg, doing most of his damage from 3-point range (36-of-90). Peterson has been a strong presence in the frontcourt, tallying 11.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg and 1.1 spg.
In a matchup between two of the strongest teams in the Sun Belt, this battle should go down to the wire. Middle Tennessee's solid play in all facets of the game, especially at the defensive end, will prove crucial down the stretch.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 67, Arkansas State 65
01/03 10:44:20 ET