After an 88-68 trashing of BYU, Marquette moves on to the third round of the NCAA Tournament to face the sixth-seeded Murray State Racers (31-1). Steve Prohm’s group used a big second half to pull away from the 11th-seeded Colorado State Rams on Thursday to advance, and Saturday’s matchup will pit two top-11 teams in the country against each other.
Here’s what you need to know about the Racers.
Likely first or second team All-American Isaiah Canaan is the main reason the Racers have lost just one game this year. One of the most efficient players in the country, Canaan has unlimited range, can attack the basket and makes excellent decisions when the ball is in his hands, and it usually is. It will be interesting to see if Marquette deploys Junior Cadougan or Vander Blue on Canaan. Shutting down the Ohio Valley Player of the Year will be no easy task, and he’s quite the staunch defender as well. Much like MU’s Jae Crowder, Canaan can do it all.
Not to be forgotten is shooting guard Donte Poole, who, much like Canaan, is as efficient a guard as they come. He has an excellent mid range jumper, attacks the basket and averages over two 3-pointers per game. Defensively, he has one of the best steal rates (3.9 percent) in the country.
He made just 1-of-7 shots against Colorado State, but senior forward Ivan Aska gets the job done on the offensive end. He is shooting 50 percent from the field, over 85 percent from the free throw line, and has an above average offensive rebounding rate for a 6-foot-7 player. He isn’t all that physical, which could hurt him in a potential matchup against Jae Crowder.
6-foot-1 senior Jewuan Long is a slasher who loves to get to the basket. He is shooting almost 49 percent from the field, and contributes with 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.0 steals in 28 minutes a night. He is a consistent source of excellent defense, occasional points and all-around effectiveness as the third guard in the Racers’ back court.
6-foot-7 forward Ed Daniel looks a lot like Ben Wallace with his giant afro, and he plays like him, too. The Racers’ leading shot blocker and second highest rebounder is quick and lengthy. He had four steals against Colorado State to go with six rebounds. On the year, he is shooting over 57 percent offensively, but also lacks all-around toughness inside.
First off the bench for the Racers is freshman point guard Zay Jackson, who has an excellent assist rate and plays outstanding defense. He isn’t relied on to shoot much, although he did have seven points in Thursday’s win over Colorado State. At 6-feet tall, he is a bit undersized but makes up for it with sneaky athleticism and quickness.
Much like Marquette’s Vander Blue, 6-foot-5 guard Latreze Mushatt uses athleticism and effort to snag rebounds on both ends of the floor. Given the Racers’ guard-oriented style of play, long rebounds are a common occurrence, and Mushatt has been one of the best players in the country, per minutes played, at grabbing them. He doesn’t contribute much offensively but, like the rest of the Murray State guards, is efficient when he does. He is shooting 49 percent from the field.
Shooting guard Stacy Wilson and forward Brandon Garrett round out the Racer reserves, but neither have contributed much in recent games.
WHAT THE RACERS DO WELL
The guard-oriented Racers are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, making over 40 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. That number is good for fourth in the country, and they do so with a disciplined attack of taking open looks when defenses get lazy. Their three starting guards shoot over 43 percent from deep, with Canaan leading the way with 95 makes on over 47 percent shooting. Marquette has improved its 3-point defense and is one of the better teams in the country at defending it, but this is an area where Murray State will look to attack to stay in the game.
Canaan and Poole attack defenses regularly, and get to the line a combined 9.7 times per game. As a team, the Racers attempt 24 free throws per game, 20th most in the country, and receive almost 24 percent of their scoring on free throw makes, the 30th highest percentage in the country. With a shallow front court, albeit made deeper by Davante Gardner’s presence, the Golden Eagles will need to limit the Racers’ free throw attempts by cutting off driving lanes and contesting layups without fouling. Daniel averages 4.0 free throw attempts per game, so Jamil Wilson will need to be extra careful not go get into foul trouble.
A handful of pesky, athletic guards help the Racers average 8.0 steals per game, 35th best in the country. Teams turn the ball over 24.5 percent of possessions against the Racers, the 11th highest mark in the country. Canaan, Poole and the rest of the Murray State rotation play excellent defense in both press and half court situations. Against Colorado State, the Racers forced 22 turnovers and scored 20 points off those Ram miscues.
WHERE THE RACERS STRUGGLE
The Racers’ guards have a score-first mentality, and that can lead to undisciplined basketball at times. They assist on just 50.7 percent of their field goals (248th in the country) and have a turnover rate of 20.8 percent (211th). They turn the ball over almost 14 times per game, and average 12.5 assists per game, 175th most in the country. In the Racers’ only loss this season, Tennessee Tech forced 18 Racer turnovers.
Like Marquette, the Racers’ small lineup gets hurt on the offensive glass. Murray State allows over 10 offensive rebounds per game, something a healthy Davante Gardner could exploit on Saturday. Colorado State grabbed 12 offensive rebounds on Thursday that it turned into nine second chance points. Marquette had 16 offensive rebounds against BYU, which was one of the nation’s best teams at not allowing second chances on defense.
Playing in a weaker conference, Murray State struggled to stay out of foul trouble. The Racers average over 18 fouls per game and opponents make an average of 19 trips to the line. Marquette, of course, has used the free throw line to its advantage all year. The Golden Eagles average 23.9 trips to the line per game, a place they may take advantage of Saturday evening.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
Contain Isaiah Canaan: This is certainly easier said than done, but it’s vital to stopping the Racers’ offensive attack. Donte Poole is no pushover, but putting Vander Blue and Todd Mayo on Canaan seems like the most logical way to do this. If Murray State wins Saturday, it will be because Canaan scored in the 20s and got to the free throw line. Blue and Mayo do the best job on the perimeter of cutting off lanes and contesting shots.
Win the battle inside: This may be the only time the rest of the NCAA Tournament that this is a factor, but Marquette boasts a better front court than Murray State, and doesn’t give up any size. If Davante Gardner plays anywhere near his productivity level against BYU, he will score in double figures. Jae Crowder and Jamil Wilson will be key as well. With such a talented defensive back court, Murray State’s weakness is on the interior, and can be exploited.
Keep Cadougan calm: Murray State opponents are assisting on just 46 percent of field goals, and Canaan is a superb on-ball defender. Junior Cadougan was better Thursday than he was in the Big East Tournament, but his assist-to-turnover ratio in the past four games is 19:18 (1.05), and Canaan will eat him alive if he isn’t relaxed and making smart decisions. Marquette needs Cadougan to set the tone against a tough defensive Racer unit, and his play will go a long way toward Marquette coming out victorious.