(12) Murray State vs. (4) Florida State
Time: Saturday, 4:10 PM CST
Spread: FSU -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Murray State is led by future NBA lottery pick Ja Morant. The Racers had a tough defense that limited opponents to just 67.8 points per game while it scored 83.3 itself. Morant led the team with 24.6 points per game while playing 36.5 minutes per contest. He also led the team in assists with 10 per game, as a premier prospect who should be a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
In addition to Morant’s dominance, the Racers also got solid seasons from Shaq Buchanan, Tevin Brown, and Darnell Cowart. Buchanan averaged 13 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while playing 33 minutes per game, and Brown averaged 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Morant, Buchanan and Brown all shot 33 percent or better from behind the arc this season, and all attempted a lot of threes: 149 for Morant, 137 for Buchanan, and 227 for Brown. The thing is, outside of this trio, no one else on Murray really shoots the three ball and the team attempted just 629 on the season. Morant also has a problem with turnovers, as does Murray—He averaged 5.2 per game and the Racers tallied 12.1 turnovers per game while shooting 49.6 percent from the floor and 73.8 percent from the line as a team.
Morant concluded the season on fire. He had 36 points in the victory over Belmont on Mar 9, 29 in the win over JV State and 27 against Austin Peay University. He has scored 23 or more in four of the last five games and doubled his scoring average from his freshman season nearly (12.7 a year ago vs. 24.6 this year). Many will be expecting Murray State to have a chance in this game only if because Morant can entirely take over games.
He did just that in the opening round, finishing with a triple-double that left many doubtless he will be the next great NBA point guard. Morant continually found the right shooters, the perfect passes, finishing with 16 assists. Morant also scored 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and played all but one minute in the 19-point win over the favored Marquette. While Murray is an underdog again in Round 2, it was one of the more popular “Cinderella” picks and this game could be a nail-biter decided by less than the 5-point spread set by oddsmakers. Murray State is a small conference school, but its team is led by a true leader and transcendental talent in Morant.
Florida State concluded its season 27-7 with a 13-5 mark in ACC play but it made it to the ACC Final where it lost to NCAA tournament #1 seed Duke 63-73. Florida State was led by Mfiondu Kabengele off the bench as he connected on 5 of 11 from the field and 3 of 5 from three-point range en route to 14 points in 26 minutes. The starting backcourt of Trent Forest and M.J. Walker combined to shoot just 4 of 18 for 15 total points. Florida State held Cam Reddish to 11 and RJ Barrett to 17, but Zion Williamson had 21 points on 7 of 11 shooting and Duke shot 49.1 percent from the field and outscored Florida State 37-27 in the second half after being tied at 36 at the intermission.
Florida State’s number one scorer is Kabengele’s 12.9 points per game, and he ranks No. 2 in rebounds at 5.7 per game while leading the team in blocked shots at 1.5 per game. Mann and Forest combine to average 21.1 point per game and 6.3 assists between them, but Forrest shoots just 23.3 percent from three-point range and FSU’s top three scorers are all 78 percent or worse at the line. Florida State utilized an 11-man rotation during the season with all players seeing at least 11 minutes per game. Florida State shoots 33.6 percent from three-point range and 74.1 percent from the free throw line as a team.
The Seminoles attempted just 760 threes during the season with Kabengele leading the team at 167 threes attempted. He did this despite playing over 300 minutes less than the starting backcourt of Mann and Forrest. Mann attempted 264 field goals and connected on 50.4 percent during the season, leading the Seminoles in field goal percentage and three-point percentage (42.3). Kabengele is a 6’10 250 pound sophomore forward, and he played fairly well against Duke — finishing with 14 points, three blocks, and three rebounds in 26 minutes. He has scored in double-figures in three of the last five games, including a 10 point, six rebound performance in just 16 minutes in a 66-59 win over Virginia on Mar. 15.
Florida State had its problems dispatching Vermont in the opening round.
The teams were gridlocked at halftime, and Florida State won by just seven. The positives for FSU are that it led the battle of the boards by a margin of six, while also keeping its turnovers down to just seven. The negatives include shooting just 38 percent from the floor and hitting only 3 of 12 from three-point range.
Florida State did play passing lanes well in coming up with nine steals and four blocked shots, but Vermont had 16 turnovers so the Seminoles did a better job of taking care of the ball. One last matter of concern for FSU should be its poor defense and poor perimeter rotations on threes. Vermont shot 32 against Florida State and knocked down half of them, and that allowed the Catamounts to stay in the game despite being badly outmatched in the frontcourt.