West Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #5 Marquette vs. #12 Murray State

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-20

The Ohio Valley Conference champions Murray State Racers will take on the Big East representative Marquette Golden Eagles in the first-round matchup of the West Region at XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, this Thursday, March 21, 2019. As one of the at-large teams, the No. 5 seed Golden Eagles are listed as 3.5-point favorites here with the total at 149.5 points and the No. 12 seed Murray State at +150 money line odds. They will meet each other for the first time since 2012 when Marquette outlasted Murray State 62-53 as a 5-point favorite in the third round of the West Region.

The Murray State Racers shared the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title with Belmont, recording 27 wins and just four losses, while they went 16-2 in the conference play. After a narrow 76-74 victory over Jacksonville State in the semifinals of the OVC tournament, the Racers dominated Belmont 77-65 in the finals to earn their place in the Big Dance. Ja Morant had a big game against the Bruins, accounting for 36 points, seven rebounds, and three assists to lead the Racers to their 11th consecutive victory. Murray State enters the NCAA Tournament as a No. 44 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

The Racers are scoring 110.1 points per 100 possessions (55th in the country) on 55.2 effective field goal percentage (21st) and 34.4% shooting from beyond the arc (168th), allowing 99.1 points in a return (95th) on 46.4 effective field goal percentage (20th). The Racers’ strength of schedule was 270th in the country, and they lost a couple of tough non-conference games at Auburn 93-88 and Alabama 78-72. The sophomore guard Ja Morant is the leader of this Murray State team, and the future top 5 draft pick is averaging 24.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 10.0 assists per game while making 50.3% of his field goals. The senior guard Shaq Buchanan is tallying 13.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while the freshman guard Tevin Brown is adding 11.7 points and 4.7 boards per outing.

Murray State has appeared in 16 NCAA tournaments, winning just three of its 19 games so far. Last year, the Racers lost to the No. 5 seed West Virginia 85-68 in the first round and are 0-3 straight up and 1-2 ATS against the #5 teams.

The Marquette Golden Eagles had some difficult time late in the regular season. They finished 2nd in the Big East one game behind Villanova, recording 12 wins and six losses in the conference play and 24-9 overall, while the Golden Eagles lost to Seton Hall 81-79 in the semifinals of the Big East championship tournament. It was Golden Eagles’ fifth defeat over their last six outings, and they entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 28 at the NCAA NET Rankings.

Marquette is scoring 113.0 points per 100 possessions (28th in the country) on 54.1 effective field goal percentage (44th) and 39.3% shooting from the field (9th), surrendering 95.3 points in a return (38th) on 45.9 effective field goal percentage (16th). The Golden Eagles’ strength of schedule was 58th in the country, and Marquette has beaten Louisville 77-74, Wisconsin 74-69, and Kansas State 83-71 among the others. The junior guard Markus Howard is leading the way for the Golden Eagles this season, tallying 25.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 42.4% from the field. The junior forward Sam Hauser is posting 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest, while his younger brother Joey Hauser is adding 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman.

The Golden Eagles won the National Championship in 1977, and they have a 40-34 record in 32 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Their previous involvement in 2017 ended in a 93-73 first-round loss to South Carolina. Interestingly, Marquette is 0-2 straight up and ATS in its two matchups with the No. 12 seed.

Pick: Murray State Racers +3.5

The Racers put on a strong performance in the OVC tournament and are riding an 11-game winning streak, while the Golden Eagles have been really struggling lately. The Racers are 5-1 ATS in their last six outings as underdogs. The Golden Eagles are just 1-4 ATS in their previous five showings as favorites and are 3-8 ATS in their last 11 first-round matchups. With Ja Morant onwards, I think the Racers can pull off an upset here, so I’m backing them to cover the spread.

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