(12) Murray State v. (5) Marquette
Time: 3:30 PM CT (TBS)
Spread: MAR -4
Odds c/o 5dimes
Murray State concluded its season 27-4 after going 16-2 in the OVC. It was 11-2 against non-conference opponents. The #12 seeded Racers will face #5 seeded Marquette in opening round action as 4-point underdogs. Murray State has won its last 11 games entering the tournament. Marquette finished the season 24-9 with a second place finish in the Big East, but it lost five of its last six games including a 79-81 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Semifinals. The over/under is set at 149.5 points according to NCAA basketball oddsmakers at 5dimes, and the game will air at 3:30 PM CST on TBS Thursday afternoon.
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. The question remains as to whether Marquette’s guards can slow Morant enough to emerge as the favorites it is.
Marquette held opponents to 69.1 points per game this season while averaging 77.7 itself. The Golden Eagles fared 4-1 against AP ranked opponents this year, losing only to a No. 2 ranked Kansas team early in the season. Marquette finished one game behind Villanova in the regular season Big East Standings, and it lost 79-81 to Seton Hall in the Big East championship. The runner up finish in both the regular season and tournament play certainly could have been better, but the Golden Eagles are hoping to redeem itself in the big dance.
Markus Howard leads Marquette at 25 points per game. He is a major talent, also averaging four rebounds and four assists per game while shooting 40.8 percent from three-point range. Forward Sam Hauser is the No. 2 scorer at 14.9 per game, and Hauser leads the Golden Eagles in rebounding at 7.1 per game and he also leads in blocks/steals at 1.1 per. Both Howard and Hauser are superb free throw shooters at 89.2 and 92.3 percent respectively, and the Golden Eagles are a great shooting team at 39.3 percent team three-point shooting and 75.9 percent foul shooting. Marquette attempted 791 threes this season and it averaged 13.6 turnovers per game with four of those coming from Howard’s high usage rate and heavy role within the offense.
This battle between the guards Markus Howard and Ja Morant promises to be electric and exciting, one of the better head-to-head matchups that will be seen in the 2019 first round. Morant can be erratic at times, but there is no denying the talent he has and NBA scouts certainly will be watching him attentively. While Marquette is 4-point favorites, there is almost always one 5 over 12 upset and this is going to be the one this bettor chooses in 2019. Murray State may hail from a small conference but it has a penchant towards attracting some of the top guards in the NCAA and will have a lottery pick on its roster once again after Morant’s name is called in June.