(6) Murray St vs. (11) Colorado St: West Region
Murray State 30-1, 15-1 OVC (Regular-season and conference tourney champions)
Colorado State 20-11, 8-6 MWC (At large)
Time: 12:15 p.m. Thursday
Location: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
Winner will face: (3) Marquette or (14) BYU/Iona
Murray State No. 12 AP; No. 9 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll; No. x AP); Colorado State (No. x ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Murray State 27
Line: Murray State -3½ (O/U 135½)
Players to Watch
Murray State: G Isaiah Canaan, 6-0 Jr. (19.2 ppg, 3.7 apg, 47.3% 3s); G Donta Poole, 6-3 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 39.2% 3s); F Ivan Aska, 6-7 Sr. (10.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 50% FG). Canaan, who scored in double-figures in 29 of 31 games, was named the OVC Player of the Year and the collegehoops.net Mid-Major Player of the Year following his junior season.
Colorado State: F Pierce Hornung, 6-5 Jr. (8.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 64.3% FG); G Wes Eikmeier, 6-3 Jr. (15.6 ppg, 2.1 apg, 37.5% 3s); G Dorian Green, 6-2 Jr. (13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg). Eikmeier – an Iowa State transfer – was named 1st-team all-MWC. However, he was just 3-for-8 with seven points in the Rams’ 79-69 Mountain West Tournament loss to San Diego State.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
Murray State: The Racers had the best winning percentage in the country, so they’re obviously a confidence bunch. They shoot the ball confidently, as well, knocking down 40.6 percent of their 3-point shots. Defensively, MSU is opportune. Its defense averages 8.4 steals per game and turns teams over 16.5 times per game – one of the best rates in the country. Playing close to home at Nashville will also give Murray a shot at a spot in the Sweet 16.
Colorado State: The Rams shot the ball well all season, leading the MWC (and were 25th in the country) at 47.6 percent from the floor. They also led the league and were sixth nationally in free throw percentage (76.9 percent) and 3-point percentage (40.5). CSU was efficient, as well, scoring 1.09 points per possession. Eikmeier shot 64.3 percent from the floor and gets many of his points around the basket.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Murray State: The Racers are a decent defensive team, but they’ll have a tough time against a diverse offense like the Rams. Also, Murray can be vulnerable on the boards. Tennessee State out-rebounded the Racers 32-20 in the OVC championship game, including 10 offensive rebounds for the Tigers. A tough player like Hornung could have a big day on the glass for CSU.
Colorado State: The Rams are making their first NCAA appearance in nine years – and just their fourth since the 1960s – and are looking for their first NCAA win since beating Florida in 1989, so they have no tournament experience. CSU has very little depth – with Greg Smith out with an ankle injury, only seven players played in the MWC quarterfinals against San Diego State. With so few players in the rotation, foul trouble could be terminal for the Rams, who average 18.8 fouls per game and had 16 players foul out this season. The Rams’ defense is not exceptional, allowing teams to shoot 43.6 percent from the field and 35.7 from the 3-point line, and they only get 5.4 steals per game. That could be a bad sign against an explosive Racers’ squad.
The Bottom Line: Colorado State just doesn’t have enough firepower to have a real opportunity at an upset.
The Pick: Murray State 72, Colorado State 64
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)