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Marquette’s Markus and Murray’s Morant square off in first round

Two of the nation’s top scorers go head-to-head in No. 5 Marquette’s first-round matchup against No. 12 Murray State. The Golden Eagles’ Markus Howard averages 25 points per game, while Racers sophomore guard Ja Morant averages 24.6. Marquette enters the postseason 19-10 against the spread, but has lost five of its past six straight up. Ohio Valley Conference champion Murray State is riding an 11-game winning streak and is 7-4 ATS during that stretch. Marquette is a 4.5-point favorite with the total opening at 148 before a slight uptick to 149.

Murray State vs Marquette Game Center

STANDOUT STATS

  • The Racers possess the ninth-highest scoring offense at 83.9 points per game and the ninth-best field-goal percentage at 49.6. If you dig into KenPom’s advanced metrics, Murray State ranks 23rd in effective field-goal rate.
  • Marquette averages 77.7 points per game but shoots just 45.6 percent from the floor, which ranks outside the top 70 D-I programs.
  • One key matchup to watch is Murray State’s three-point defense against Marquette’s elite shooting beyond the arc. The Golden Eagles possess the seventh-best three-point rate at 39.3 percent, while the Racers hold opposing teams to 28.2 percent from the land of three. If Marquette struggles from deep against Murray’s fourth-ranked three-point defense, it’s going to have difficulty creating separation on the scoreboard.
  • Sagarin ratings rank Murray State’s strength of schedule 265th with only one game against a top-50 program and that resulted in a loss. Marquette’s SOS ranked 54th with a 4-2 record against Top 25 teams.
  • During its 11-game winning streak, Murray State has won by an average of 15.45 points per game and the OVER has hit in five of its last seven games with an average combined score of 156.29. This game’s O/U is 149 and it’s worth noting only one game on Thursday’s slate features an O/U above 150 points – LSU vs Yale.
  • Murray State is 8-2 ATS over its past 10 games and 10-3 ATS away from home this season. Marquette is 4-6 ATS over its past 10 and just 6-4 ATS away from home.
  • For as much love as No. 12 seeds receive on an annual basis, know that No. 5 seeds are 14-6 straight up dating back to 2013. Granted, those No. 5 seeds are 8-11-1 against the spread in those games. The OVER has hit in 13 of those 20 matchups and eight of the last 10.
  • Marquette is 4-1 straight up in its last five first-round NCAA Tournament matchups. Murray State is 3-1 against the spread in its last four first-round tourney matchups.

MY LEAN

Murray State +4.5

The classic No. 5 vs No. 12 upset alert may be cliché, but the Racers are a legit uptempo threat to Marquette’s hopes of reaching the first weekend. It doesn’t help the Golden Eagles’ case that Howard is reportedly dealing with a left wrist injury. He claims he’s good to go, but as Howard goes, so goes Marquette, and the Eagles are just 1-5 SU and ATS in their last six March contests.

With Morant a likely NBA lottery pick later this summer, he’ll embrace his one shining moment on the big stage and lead Murray State to an outright win over a reeling Marquette squad. I’ll take Murray State +4.5.

Why to Fade Fowler: Marquette is 10-3 SU in its last 13 games after a loss.

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