(3) Marquette vs. (6) Murray State: West Region
Marquette 26-7, 14-4 Big East (At large)
Murray State 31-1, 15-1 OVC (Regular-season and Conference Tournament Champions)
Time: 5:15 p.m. Saturday
Location: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville
First Round Results
Marquette def. BYU, 88-68
Murray State def. Colorado State 58-41
Winner will face: (2) Missouri, (7) Florida, (10) Virginia or (15) Norfolk State, Thursday at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix
Marquette No. 11 AP; No. 11 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Murray State No. 12 AP; No. 9 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Murray State 22
Line: Marquette -5 (O/U 142½)
Players to Watch
Marquette: F Jae Crowder, 6-6 Sr. (17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.4 spg); G Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-2 Sr. (18.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.8 apg); C Davante Gardner, 6-8 So. (9.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 57.6% FG). The Eagles are clearly better since Gardner worked his way back into the lineup. In Thursday’s win over BYU, Gardner battled the Cougars’ outstanding bigs and had a 15-point, 6-rebound, 2-assist outing.
Murray State: G Isaiah Canaan, 6-0 Jr. (19.2 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 spg, 47.3% 3s); G Donta Poole, 6-3 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2 spg); F Ivan Aska, 6-7 Sr. (10.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 50% FG). Canaan has the ability to be one of those small-conference players who lifts his team to greatness. The junior wasn’t spectacular on Thursday with 15 points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists. Expect Canaan to lift his game to the greater competition.
Why Each Team Dangerous
Marquette: After an 88-point performance on Thursday, Marquette is scoring 75.9 points per game, which is 31st in the country. The Eagles share the ball well, averaging 16.8 assists and force 16.7 turnovers per contest. Crowder has been a beast of late. Including Thursday’s 25-point, 16-rebound performance, Crowder is averaging 26.7 points and 12.8 rebounds over his last six games. Behind Crowder, the Eagles out-rebounded the bigger Cougars 48-32. The Eagles also forced 17 turnovers, 19 assists, shot 45 percent from the 3-point line and held BYU to 26-of-61 from the field.
Murray State: The Racers clearly have a go-to scorer in Canaan and that could be a factor in what should be a close game. MSU ranks sixth nationally in 3-point percentage (40.3), 21st in points per possession (1.11), 31st in free throws made per game (16.9), they’re 19th nationally in steals per game (8.4), they shoot 73 percent from the charity stripe and they rebound 35.2 percent of their own misses. Opponents shot just 42.1 percent from the floor, 29.5 from 3 and Murray made almost as many free throws (529) as its opponents shot (577). The Racers do a lot of different things very well.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Marquette: Before Thursday’s win, Marquette had been struggling. It had lost two of its last three and given up 72 and 84 points to Cincinnati and Louisville – not exactly explosive offensive – respectively, in those defeats. The Eagles aren’t very big, even with Gardner back. They were out-rebounded by their opponents this season (1,156-1,146). Against the Racers’ active bigs, that could be an issue. Murray’s pressure defense could also be an issue, since the Eagles turn the ball over 13.3 times per game.
Murray State: This is arguably the best team the Racers have played all season. They’re schedule wasn’t exactly challenging. A lot of it wasn’t Murray’s faul, since the OVC was significantly down this season. It will be interesting to see if the Racers raise their game, but it has to be questioned. The Racers crash the offensive boards hard, but they only have a plus-1.7 rebounding margin. The way Crowder is rebounding, that will be a concern. MSU also turns the ball over 14 times per game despite playing at a slower pace than the Eagles.
The Bottom Line: The bottom line is Murray State is really good. They may fall behind, but Racers are going to score a ton of points and advance to the Sweet 16. It’s a shame one of these teams have to be eliminated in the first weekend.
The Pick: Murray State 89, Marquette 86
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 206-158-6 (Through Thursday, March 16)