Middle Tennessee guard Antwain Johnson (2) is fouled by Western Kentucky guard Darius Thompson (15) as he drives to the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

It was rocking Thursday night in MTSU’s Murphy Center.

It was also rolling before a sellout 11,000-plus fans who had come to see the Blue Raiders tangle with the visiting Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

The Conference USA’s two top teams were primed to the teeth for each other.

They were one-two in the regular season standings. The home team was No. 1 and when the dust had cleared, they still stood tall with an 82-64 win.

MTSU is ranked No. 24 in the Big Boy rankings.

Middle coach Kermit Davis has a team that can play with anyone. They are athletic. They love sharing the ball. They love winning, They love playing hard for Davis. It shows.

For some time in the past, Western Kentucky wore the crown between the two, going back to the late coach Ed Diddle and his red towel flying in the breeze.

Davis has caught up and passed Western now. Western Coach Rick Stansbury has a SEC background and the two know each other through the years.

Imagine a packed house in the Murph on a school night, a night where the working class had to drag out of bed and go to work Friday. They didn’t care. That’s why they get comp time, or the flu.

They were floating in air after beating the ‘Toppers. They got their wish.

This rivalry reminds me of a Belmont-David Lipscomb rivalry between two schools located on the same Nashville Boulevard, named Belmont Boulevard. On a lower level, those two teams had players who knew each other, especially playing pickup hoops in the summer.

Like Kermit Davis and Stansbury, back then Belmont’s Rick Byrd and the late Don Meyer were equally competitive. They pushed each other. They packed the smaller gyms, at times the fire marshal looking the other way.

Kermit ‘s team runs on all cylinders. It goes non-stop warp speed. He has recruited players who love playing Kermit’s style. Stansbury’s challenge is to find a way to make it even at the finish line.

This rivalry will continue to grow. It’s just a natural match up and down the line. If the TV gurus have any sense, they will make room for it on national TV.

MTSU jumped to No. 21 on the RPI ratings after Thursday’s win.

Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Blue Raiders as an 11-seed, playing No. 6 Texas Tech in the first round.

I know one thing. I don’t think any team that draws the Blue Raiders will overlook them. Should they dare, it will be a big mistake.

A Big Blue mistake.

Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at