Blue Raiders telling themselves: MSU ‘just another team’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Reggie Upshaw

St. Louis – When you’re a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament preparing to play a 2-seed that many believed should have been a 1, there isn’t a lot of time spent worrying about the odds.

Sure, a 15-seed has defeated a No. 2 seven times, but it’s still a long shot.

So for Middle Tennessee, there is a unique approach to its matchup with Michigan State at approximately 2:45 p.m. Friday in St. Louis. Instead of making it about a powerhouse vs. a mid-major, the Blue Raiders are breaking it down to simpler terms.

“I used a typical analogy,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said Thursday at the Scottrade Center. “If we just show up in Nashville, nobody had their colors on, and you go to a park and play a pickup game, every college player thinks you're going to win the pickup game. That's the way you approach it. You can't worry about Michigan State. You just play and be who we are.

“And over the last four or five years, our team has beaten UCLA and Tennessee and Vanderbilt and Auburn, Ole Miss a couple of times. I do think they have a quiet confidence, but they also understand the challenge.”

Wojo: Here's your guaranteed, lock-it-up Final Four

The challenge is daunting as Middle Tennessee, the tournament champion of Conference USA, takes on a team that many believe is just starting its path toward Houston and the Final Four.

Michigan State – the Big Ten tournament champion that has won 13 of its last 14 -- is playing in its 19th straight NCAA Tournament while Middle Tennessee is in its eighth, ever, and first since 2013.

But getting caught up in the size of the task at hand isn’t the approach for the Blue Raiders.

“I think our coaches have done a great job leading up to us coming up here, just telling us, I mean, it's just another team,” junior Reggie Upshaw said. “Yeah, they have a lot of history. But I mean we've played against great competition all year. We had a really tough non-conference schedule. So I feel like we're prepared to play just about anybody.”

Goins nears return

Michigan State redshirt freshman Kenny Goins hasn’t played since injuring his left knee on Feb. 14 in a win over Indiana. But he is back practicing and while not ruling out a return this weekend, hopes to be back for next weekend’s regional, if Michigan State advances.

“I’m moving a lot better, feeling a lot better, just trying to get full range (of motion) back,” Goins said Thursday. “Probably not this weekend, still hoping for next weekend. I’m still gonna take it day by day and see how it feels.”