Within a few minutes of the conclusion of ESPN’s NCAA women’s basketball selection show Sunday, Colorado players and coaches were scrambling for information about a team they didn’t know anything about.
“I can’t wait to start scouting them,” senior point guard Jaylyn Sherrod said.
Until Sunday night, CU didn’t know anything about Middle Tennessee, but the Buffaloes are aiming to find out as much as possible before the two teams meet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Durham, N.C.
“I think that’s the most exciting part about it,” CU senior Quay Miller said of facing a new team. “We don’t know how they play; they don’t know how we play. And, it’s just nice to go against someone we haven’t already played.”
Based on rankings, this is one of the most evenly-matched games in the first round.
As of Sunday, CU was No. 20 in the Associated Press poll, while MTSU was No. 25. In the NET rankings, CU was No. 23, while MTSU was No. 28. Only three other first-round games are between teams within five NET spots from each other. And, only one other features two teams in the AP Top 25 (No. 18 Michigan vs. No. 21 UNLV).
Statistically, there are some similarities, including the fact that both are strong defensively.
MTSU ranks 24th nationally in scoring defense (56.7 points per game) and 25th in field goal percentage defense (36.4%). CU is 46th in scoring defense (58.6 points per game) and 63rd in field goal percentage defense (37.9%).
Offensively, the Conference USA-champion Lady Raiders launch a lot of 3-pointers, ranking 30th nationally with 24.9 attempts per game. They are just 135th in 3-point percentage (32.0), however. CU doesn’t attempt nearly as many 3s, at 16.5 per game (260th), but the Buffs have been more successful in hitting those 3s, connecting at 34.4% (53rd).
If the game is close, MTSU has a significant edge at the free throw line. The Lady Raiders are 14th nationally in free throw percentage (78.4%) and they shoot a lot, at 20.4 per game (37th). CU, meanwhile, ranks 239th in the country in free throw percentage (69.0) and attempts just 17.4 per game (143rd).
A year ago, CU was the higher seed for the first round, at No. 7, but lost to 10th-seeded Creighton, 84-74. The Buffs are hoping to make up for that.
“We’ve been there before so it’s kind of out of the system, that, ‘Ohh, we’re going to March Madness,’” CU junior Frida Formann said. “It’s the second year and … whenever I think about that Creighton game, it just still hurts and I think we can all use that (as motivation).”
Payne said she believes the Buffs will be better prepared.
“I do expect us to handle it differently,” she said. “I think that we have a great group of upperclassmen, veterans that didn’t perform the way they wanted to last year in the NCAA Tournament. Since that time, we’ve really wanted to make sure that we perform the way we’re capable of.”
While this is CU’s second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the Buffs have been there just three times in the last 20 seasons (2004, 2013, 2022). The Buffs have lost their last four tournament games, dating back to an upset of North Carolina in the second round of the 2003 tournament.
Middle Tennessee is in the tournament for the 13th time in the last 20 years. The Raiders have lost nine straight since knocking off Gonzaga in the first round in 2007.
MTSU made the tournament field in 2021, but missed out last year. The Raiders went 27-8, however, and reached the WNIT semifinals.
Ready to go
Although MTSU hasn’t had much success in the NCAA Tournament, it has won a lot of games in the last two seasons, going 55-12. Head coach Rick Insell said his team will be ready for the Buffs.
“I have put this team in the fire all year,” Insell said in an MTSU press release. “I’ve asked them to do things that I didn’t know if they could handle. And in every situation, they’ve handled it. We’ve won in some places that a lot of people don’t win. We’ve beaten some teams that a lot of people don’t beat. They’re competitors and they’re not afraid of anybody or anything. There’s not a doubt in my mind they’ll come ready to play.”
MTSU sophomore guard Jalynn Gregory was the Conference USA Tournament MVP. She’s also one of the highest volume 3-point shooters in the country, launching 246 (ninth in the country) this season. … Insell is in his 18th season at MTSU. He’s compiled a 433-150 record and has taken MTSU to the NCAA Tournament 11 times. … CU has played only two games in its history in North Carolina. The Buffs won in Durham, on Jan. 5, 1980, against Duke. They lost in overtime in Chapel Hill to North Carolina on Nov. 12, 2017.