“For people to look at us as a Cinderella story, it’s an honor.”
In a season filled with many firsts, the Racers are looking for their biggest “first” yet.
“The next game, we win Saturday, it will be the Sweet 16,” Murray State guard Isaiah Cannan told the assembled press inside of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center. “We’re going to love that.”
The Racers have been in this position before, just 2 years ago in fact. Then, the scrappy 13-seeded Racers lost to the eventual National runner-up, and 5th seeded Butler.
But this year, the Racers aren’t a 13-seed with nothing to lose. While they’re still the underdog, by the seeds at least, they come into this game off of one of their biggest seasons in school history. 31-1, ranked 12th by the Associated Press.
That’s not the only thing different this time.They’re not playing another mid-major trying to make their mark on the college basketball landscape. They’re playing the team that finished 2nd in the basketball rich Big East, 3rd seeded and 11th ranked Marquette.
“We had the mindset to play like underdogs going into the first game,” Jewuan Long said. “No matter who you put in front of us, we expect to win. So that’s the same mindset we’ve got to go in with.”
Murray State’s record, and seeding, isn’t something that’s gone unnoticed by their opponents. Earlier in the week, Marquette’s Buzz Williams went so far to call the Racers “America’s Team,” a sentiment echoed by his players.
“I don’t think there’s any underdogs in the tournament, or they wouldn’t be here,” Darius Johnson Odom said. “We were an 11 seed last year, but we all thought that we could do the things that we did last year.”
Speed vs Power
If there’s a simple way to break down this game, it’s this: Marquette is the more physical team, Murray State is the more finesse. So which one wins? Both coaches surprisingly agree.
“I think so,” Murray State head coach Steve Prohm repeated twice to the media when asked if speed beats size. ” I think there’s going to be a lot of quickness. I think there’s going to be a lot of strength and a lot of toughness out on that court tomorrow.”
Marquette’s head coach Buzz Williams agrees. “Fast beats big when fast is fast. I learned that as a little boy, and I believe that, and I coach that. I recruit that. I teach that.”
It makes sense that the two coaches agree, although the reasons are likely much different. During the press conference, Prohm likened Marquette’s players to football players. “I was joking with our players last night, I said, they look like they should all be in spring practice at Alabama and LSU playing defensive back and linebackers.”
Clearly Marquette, who features 6 players 6’6″ or larger, and all but one player over 200 pounds, is a much bulkier team. While you expect the Racers to be physical, it’s unlikely that the Racers will win 50% of those battles. They’ll rely on the speed of their backcourt to generate offense, using Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel to help set up their guards, not backing in and scoring.
But while Marquette is a bigger team than Murray, they’re hardly a “big” team. Marquette has made much of their mark this season by being a running team, averaging over 72 possessions a game, 23rd in the nation. Much like the Racers, they want to speed up opposing offenses and force turnovers, which they do equally as well as the Racers. (Murray is 11th in the nation at forced turnovers. Marquette is 15th.)
Jae Crowder isn’t even Marquette’s leading scorer, but he’s generating a lot of buzz heading into tomorrow’s matchup. In the Golden Eagles 2nd round matchup against BYU, Crowder scored 25 points and pulled down 16 rebounds, his 4th straight double-double and 13th this year. The Racers have the OVC Defensive Player of the Year t0 guard their leading scorer Johnson-Odom (who has only been held to single digit scoring once this year) but defending Crowder could be a more difficult task, especially if Daniel or Aska get into early foul trouble.
The second issue, keeping Crowder, a top-10 rebounder in the Big East, off the boards, something Murray struggled to do against Colorado State in their second round game, a point coach Prohm acknowledged.
“You’ve got to take care‑‑ to beat a team like Marquette, you’ve got to take care of the basketball, you’ve got to rebound the basketball, you’ve got to make free throws.”
- Donte Poole will play on Saturday, with a broken nose, but won’t wear a mask, saying “Just having the mask on, it will be too uncomfortable.”
- Free throws were a problem for the Racers in their 2nd round game against Colorado State, going just 13-26 from the stripe, but oddly enough, they struggled from there in the 2010 NCAA tournament two. An effect of the 12-day layoff? Maybe the eye line in a much larger arena than they’re used to? Whatever the reason, both players and coaches admitted they took a lot of shots in their practice today.
- If Crowder ever played football, he would want to play in a dome. Turns out he doesn’t like cold. Or heat. Seriously, this was actually discussed at the press conference.