West Region: Murray State vs Marquette Prediction
Murray State vs Marquette Preview
This game might be played by two teams, but the focus and all eyeballs will be on two players. Murray State’s Ja Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard. Both players are NBA caliber and both will light up the scoreboard and provide plenty of highlight reel plays.
Morant is expected to be a Top 3 NBA Draft pick this June, but for now, he’s focused on helping the 12th-seeded Racers pull the upset.
Morant averages 24.6 points, 10.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds and will be looking to lead the Racers to just their fourth NCAA Tournament victory in 20 chances. Murray State is certainly entering on a roll with 11 consecutive victories.
Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski has heard the chatter and is aware the Racers present a huge challenge.
“They got a lot of good stuff going for them,” Wojciechowski told reporters. “Obviously, people know Ja Morant. He’s going to go in the top two or three in the NBA draft. If you are going to do that, then that’s pretty darn good.”
Howard, a junior, averages 25.0 points and has knocked down 116 3-point baskets. He has posted 10 30-point outings — topped by a school-record 53 versus Creighton — and has made five or more 3-pointers on eight occasions.
“He has put up video-game numbers all season long,” Murray State coach Matt McMahon said of Howard.
McMahon knows the Racers need a big game from Morant to advance but he is reluctant to buy into the Morant vs. Howard narrative.
“I’m sure it will drive some ratings,” McMahon said during a press conference. “At the end of the day, it is all about the team. I think both Marquette and Murray State have great teams. They’re led by superstar players but there is a lot of balance on both teams.”
At this time of year, two things seem to matter if you want to advance: are you coming in hot? And are you healthy? Depending on who you ask…Marquette is neither of those.
The Golden Eagles (24-9) dropped five of their last six games and were eliminated by Seton Hall in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. Howard was 1-of-15 shooting in the contest despite finishing with 21 points.
He reportedly aggravated a wrist injury during the loss to Seton Hall but insists the injury won’t be a factor against the Racers.
Morant’s supporting cast will certainly carry some importance against Marquette.
Senior guard Shaq Buchanan averages 13.0 points, freshman guard Tevin Brown averages 11.7 points and has made a team-best 84 3-pointers and junior forward Darnell Cowart contributes 10.4 points and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds.
“It’s really what we worked all year for,” Morant said of the NCAA Tournament stage. “Just to see it all pay off feels good.”
Howard isn’t the lone Golden Eagles’ player who is proficient at draining 3-pointers. Junior forward Sam Hauser had made 85 from behind the arc while averaging 14.9 points and a team-best 7.1 rebounds.
LINE: -4.5 Marquette
Dan’s Bet: +4.5 Murray State
Bracket Pick: Murray State
Score Prediction: Murray State 76 Marquette 74