|Points Per Game||78.9||79.6|
|Field Goal %||48.5||43.4|
|Rebounds Per Game||37.1||37.9|
|Assists Per Game||14.8||15.0|
|Blocks Per Game||3.2||5.3|
|Steals Per Game||6.8||8.0|
Tip-Off: Approximately 4:00 PM Est
Location: San Diego, California. Viejas Arena
The 5th seed West Virginia Mountaineers (24-10) face the 12th seed Murray State Racers (26-5) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego, California at the Viejas Arena.
This will be the first meeting between the two programs.
This is the Racers 16th tournament appearance and their first trip back to the NCAA’s since 2012.
Murray State is 3-15 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and two of those wins came in their last two appearances. As a 14th seed they beat the 3rd seed Vanderbilt Commodores 66-65 and went on to lose in round two to the 5th seed Butler Bulldogs 54-52.
Going in as the 6th seed, they got the win over the 11th seed Colorado State Rams, then lost in the second round to the 3rd seed Marquette Golden Eagles 62-53.
The Mountaineers will be making their 29th NCAA Tournament appearance and this will be their fourth straight trip to the tournament. They are 29-28 all-time in the tournament and 11-8 under head coach Bob Huggins.
Last season, West Virginia made it to the Sweet 16 before a season ending loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs 61-58.
West Virginia returned two key players from last years Sweet 16 team in senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr along with junior forward Esa Ahmad.
In the Big XII Tournament, the senior guards looked poised to claim the title until the Kansas Jayhawks seemingly couldn’t miss a shot in the second half.
Carter averaged 17.3 points, 8.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game.
Miles hit another level we haven’t seen during his career during the conference tournament. He shot 55.6% (15-27) from the field and 52.5% (15-27) from three, averaging 22.0 points per game.
Despite scoring 28 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the first game of the Big XII Tournament, Ahmad was held to five points in the semifinal game and scoreless in the Championship. He was coming along strong towards the end of the season recording back to back double-doubles before the season finale against Texas.
Forward Sagaba Konate has continued to improve throughout the season and continued his terror in the paint in the conference tournament. He was in foul trouble in the first game but in the final two games he averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.
Murray State lost two conference games on the season and both were on the road to Belmont and Jacksonville State. They had three losses in non-conference to Middle Tennessee State, @ St Louis and a four-point loss to Auburn.
The Mountaineers and the Racers did have one common opponent this year in the Marist Red Foxes. While West Virginia struggled to win the game in an early season tournament in Orlando, Florida 84-78, Murray State handled them 100-63.
Most of the Racers minutes come from their Starters.
Senior guard Jonathan Stark (6’0” 180-lbs) is the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year and was the MVP of the conference tournament. Their offense evolves round the talented guard that led the league in scoring with 21.8 points per game. As the point guard he can do it all, drive the lane, create space for a jump shot and he can hit from deep, shooting 41.0% from behind the arc. Stark will earn trips to the line and make them count hitting 88.8% of his free throws.
Senior forward Terrell Miller Jr (6’8” 248-lbs) is second in the OVC in rebounding (8.5), also averaging 14.7 points per game on. He is crafty in the paint and can hit from three-point range. Miller will drive the ball into the lane or post up down low and create a shot.
Freshman guard Jo Morant (6’3” 170-lbs) is averaging 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. He hasn’t been exceptionally well from behind the arc (31.4%) but he can get hot. He’s a versatile player that can score from anywhere on the floor.
Junior guard Shaq Buchanan (6’3 190-lbs) is arguably their best defender. He averaged 4.0 steals per game in the OVC Tournament. He’s averaging 9.2 points per game on 51.4% shooting from the field.
Junior forward Brion Sanchious (6’8” 245-lbs) is their least productive starter averaging 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, but what he does well is use his wide frame to clog and clear out the paint.
Coming off the bench.
Junior guard Byron Hawkins (6’1” 180-lbs) may not see much playing time but it will depend on how much the Racers run up and down the floor. He is the primary guard to give the starting guards a breather. He has averaged 7.1 points per game.
Sophomore forward Jalen Dupree (6’9” 240-lbs) may see a lot of action in the game to give the Racers a bigger look if their shots are not falling to help get some rebounds. He is averaging 5.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Junior forward Anthony Smith (6’7” 225-lbs) is averaging 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Depending on foul trouble amongst the other forwards or his production while he is on the floor will determine his minutes.
Murray State is quick and that might be enough to pull of the upset against West Virginia.
They will spread the Mountaineers out on offense and create off the dribble. Stark and Morant can both finish around the rim but if the defense collapses look for them to find one another along the perimeter or dump it off to Terrell.
In theory, West Virginia should have their way with Murray State and use their size advantage in the paint to score easy buckets, but the Racers are good at denying the entry pass and using their quickness to get in front of penetration to draw offensive charges.
The Mountaineers will have to hustle to all the 50/50 balls or the Racers will snag them, and they are good at creating points off turnovers and hustle plays. The Mountaineers must take care of the ball.
West Virginia will need to play disciplined on both ends of the floor to avoid the upset.
West Virginia has been playing their best basketball at the end of the year and with Carter and Miles leading the way, it will be tough to for Murray State to pull off the upset.
The Mountaineers need Esa to get back on track and get some production from other forwards, Wesley Harris, Lamont West and Teddy Allen.
Sophomore guard Beetle Bolden has struggled as of late coming off the bench, but he can provide both an offensive and defensive spark.
I expect the Racers to keep this game close but West Virginia will wear them out as the game goes on.