Marquette vs. Murray State Betting Guide: Will Markus Howard or Ja Morant Shine in NCAA Tournament?

Marquette vs. Murray State Betting Guide: Will Markus Howard or Ja Morant Shine in NCAA Tournament? article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ja Morant and Markus Howard

#5 Marquette vs. #12 Murray State NCAA Tournament Odds

  • Spread: Marquette -3
  • Over/Under: 149.5
  • Time: Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Location: San Jose, Calif.

>> All odds as of Thursday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.

No. 5 seed Marquette (19-13-1 against the spread) enters the NCAA Tournament with five straight-up losses in its past six contests. The Eagles were looking at a No. 2 or No. 3 seed before flopping down the stretch.

On the flip side, No. 12 Murray State (19-10 ATS) has covered in seven of its past nine games, including an outright win over Belmont in the OVC Tournament title game.

Which team provides more value in the Round of 64? Let’s break it down.

Marquette’s Injury Concern for Markus Howard

The 5-foot-11 Markus Howard (25.0 points per game) has been the most critical factor in Marquette’s resurgence this season, and his right wrist injury means just as much to its hopes of making a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Howard said that he’ll be ready to go for the matchup against the Racers, yet his shooting touch from behind the arc (40.8%) was clearly off in the Big East Tournament semifinals against Seton Hall. The junior point guard shot a mere 1-of-15 (6.7%) from the field, finishing with 21 points because of a flurry of free throws down the stretch with Marquette in comeback mode.

A One-Dimensional Marquette Offense

Let’s say Howard is somehow near full-health, providing a boost to the Golden Eagles’ 68th-ranked 3-point scoring rate (36.4%). The Racers are still in prime position to stymie their perimeter-oriented attack, limiting their opponents to the fourth-lowest clip from behind the arc (28.5%) in Division I.

They’re allowing the 29th-lowest 3-point scoring rate (26.8%) in the country as well, forcing Howard & Co. to attack the rim, where they’re letting up the 59th-lowest free-throw rate (28.5%).

While Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant (24.6 ppg) is even more explosive on offense, he and backcourt mate Shaq Buchanan’s ball pressure will force turnvoers. Marquette tallied a below-average 19.8% turnover rate, and the Racers boast the 67th-highest steal rate (10.2%) in the sport.

Marquette doesn’t do much well on offense besides shoot, so it needs to get hot to have a chance in any tournament game.

Murray State Offense Wants to Play in Transition

Given the Racers’ likely ability to control the tempo with their defense, Morant should receive plenty of transition opportunities (No. 6 in eFG% in transition, per Hoop-Math).

Matt McMahon’s unit has accrued the fifth-highest 2-point clip (57.2%), thanks to its effective, sped-up offense (60th-highest 2-point scoring rate).

Murray State doesn’t get to the line often as a team, but Marquette yielded the second-highest free-throw rate (37.1%) in Big East play. It started its defensive regression during conference play, showcased by that poor finish to the season.

Morant’s 51.3% free-throw rate will become factor, along with he and his teammates combining to generate the 71st-highest free-throw percentage (74.1%) in the nation. If the score ends up near the closing line, it should benefit the Racers greatly.

Marquette does defend the rim well in halfcourt sets (19th-lowest 2-point clip) thanks to 6-foot-9 big Theo John, who’s an excellent rim protector. If Murray State’s perimeter defense has an off night, the game script could completely flip.

But don’t expect that to be the case.

Eli’s Pick: Murray State +4, but I wouldn’t bet the Racers past +2.5.

Our Projected Spread for #5 Marquette vs. #12 Murray State

Get point spreads for this game and every possible tournament matchup with our bracket simulator built by Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, a former oddsmaker and FantasyPros’ most accurate in-season fantasy football ranker from 2015-2017.

  • Spread: Marquette -5
  • Total: 144.5
  • Proj Score: Marquette 75 | Murray State 70
  • Win Probability: Marquette 66.1% | Murray State 33.9%

Editor’s note: The opinions on this game is from the individual writer and are based on his research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.