One of the craziest two-day stretches in sports has passed. The first round of the NCAA Tournament is in the books, and the best game heading in to the second round is easily the Florida State Seminoles versus the Murray State Racers.
The West Region has been cut down to just eight teams, but the game that stands out as the most entertaining matchup will be between the 4-seed Seminoles and the 12-seed Racers on Saturday night.
There was a lot that hurt Florida State in their first-round game against Vermont, but something that could possibly linger over the team in round two is the death of team-leader Phil Cofer’s father. Cofer didn’t play against the Catamounts due to injury, but finding out about his father’s passing after the game could affect the team and how they prepare going forward.
This is a team built on veteran leadership, so I expect they will come out and play extremely hard after struggling against Vermont. The ‘Noles beat the Catamounts 76-69, with almost half their points coming at the free throw line. But the way their second game goes will depend on how well Trent Forrest defends Murray State’s Ja Morant.
Forrest has been a really good defender all season and I expect him to tasked guard the star of the first round. Morant finished with 17 points, 16 assists, and 11 rebounds. That’s the first triple-double in the NCAA Tournament since Draymond Green had one for Michigan State in 2012.
It’s a good sign the Seminoles mostly shut down Vermont’s best player, Anthony Lamb, in the first round. Lamb averaged 21.2 points on the season, but was held to 16 points on 4 of 13 shooting from the field. Almost every shot he took was difficult one, which is exactly what FSU needs to do to Morant. The biggest difference is how well Morant finds his teammates.
Murray State had a very different game from Florida State, rolling 5-seed Marquette, 83-64. Morant received most of the credit for the Racers dominant upset, but other players were extremely important to the winning effort. Tevin Brown led the team in scoring, finishing with 19 points, and KJ Williams added 16 points, which more than doubled his season average.
FSU needs to remember that stopping Morant from scoring doesn’t guarantee a win.
If the Seminoles want to win this game, they need their top players — Terrance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele — to play like they did in the opener. Kabengele had game-highs with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Mann poured in 19 points with eight rebounds.
Christ Koumadje will be vital to their success on defense because the Racers like to score inside the 3-point line. Of 56 field-goal attempts last game, only 18 of them were 3-pointers. Koumadje, Mann, and Kabengele will be important to protecting the rim and not allowing Morant and company to score easy buckets at the rim.
Murray State needs to take advantage of what looks the can get. Against Marquette, Morant found teammates all over the court, both inside and outside. If they need to take more three’s because of a size disadvantage, they should go with that. Vermont was able to hit 16 shots from deep and had to rely on that due to their lack of height, so the Racers could do the same, although they do have a little more size than the Catamounts.