By DAVID HUNTER
The 2014-15 MTSU men's and women's basketball seasons had its share of ups and downs, but overall both teams are pretty happy with how things turned out in the end.
In the meantime, both squads will lose only a couple of players apiece as they look toward the offseason. Each are already thinking about next season as they try to compete for a Conference USA title and beyond.
The Lady Raiders came into this season as the favorite to win the league for the second consecutive year. Of course, since head coach Rick Insell took over the program 10 seasons ago, the squad has had the mindset of playing the toughest competition in the nation and coming out on top most of the time.
This season was no different as MTSU knocked off teams from the power conferences, including Mia-mi (Fla.), Clemson, Xavier, Ole Miss (twice) and UCF.
Honestly, everything was going well for the Lady Raiders until the week of Feb. 21, when they were coming off a road loss to hated rival Western Kentucky. That's when Insell had to kick off senior forward Cheyenne Parker, one of the leading scorers in the conference, because of a rule violation. It took a couple of games for the team to adjust to life without Parker including a rare league loss at home to UAB on Feb. 28. Eventually, the Lady Raiders lost for the third time this season to Southern Miss in the C-USA semifinals on March 13. So, they did not make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 ending up instead as a favorite in the WNIT tourney.
Sure, they were upset they did not make the field of 64, but that fueled a try to advance as far as possible in the WNIT. In the process, the Lady Raiders made school history knocking off Ball State, Arkansas State and Ole Miss, before falling in the quarterfinals on March 29 against Temple.
Considering everything the team went through this season, it was a job well done. As for the future, the Lady Raiders will have to say goodbye to the leader and the only senior on the team, former Murfreesboro Siegel guard Shanice Cason.
However, the Lady Raiders will return and welcome several local stars, including former Murf-reesboro Riverdale team-mates, Olivia Jones and Ty Petty Jones added C-USA First Team honors this season.
Be sure to watch out for sharpshooter and former Cannon County guard Abbey Sissom. The 2014 AA Miss Basketball will hope-fully have an increased role next season.
MTSU will also welcome two-time defending state champion and 2015 Miss Basketball finalist, Blackman forward Alex Johnson. She will be a welcomed presence on the block next season.
As for the men, the team struggled on the road this season, but has turned Murphy Center into a place which opposing squads dare enter during the last four seasons. After picking up only its second C-USA road win of the season at FAU on March 7, 77-54, the Blue Raiders used the momentum as they made a magical run all the way to the C-USA. championship game on March 14. However, their NCAA dreams came to a crashing halt with a third heartbreaking loss to UAB, 74-60. The performance did earn the Blue Raiders a second trip to the CIT four days later, but the magic ended as they lost to Kent State in the opening round, 68-56 to finish the season at 19-17, 9-9.
"I am proud of how we ended, because we beat three really good teams in the C-USA tournament," MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said on March 30 during a recruiting trip. "Our team deserved to play in the postseason against a really good Kent State team, but we did not play our best. We made progress with our returning players and we have a lot to build on."
The Blue Raiders will only lose seniors Marcus Tarrance, Gavin Gibson and Jacquez Rozier, but they will return an impressive nucleus, including 2015 C-USA All-Tournament team members Perrin Buford and D.J. Jones on a youthful but now experienced team.
Overall, this season had its share of ups and downs for both MTSU hardwood teams, but in the end I think it turned out well. It is something to build on heading into next season.