Marquette’s basketball team looks like a football team and they train like one, too.
“The summertime is where we do our most heavy duty stuff,” Marquette’s 6-foot-6, 225 pound forward Jae Crowder said in a press conference Friday. “We do a little bit of everything, whether it be playing football, whether it be playing anything really other than basketball, we do it. I think it prepares us well for this time and it shows.”
The No. 12 Murray State Racers (31-1) will face the football-esque team of No. 11 Marquette (26-7) at 4:15 CDT Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., in the second meeting between the two teams.
The Racers and Golden Eagles have faced off one other time, March 8, 1969, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Carbondale, Ill., where Murray State fell 82-62.
Both teams are comparable in style and approach.
“Murray State is very similar to us,” Golden Eagles’ guard Darius Johnson-Odom said. “Their low post guys are just like ours, very athletic, very versatile in what they do, whether it’s scoring on the perimeter or scoring on the low block.”
The 6-foot-2, 215 pound Johnson-Odom was an All-State football player in high school and doesn’t see Murray State as an underdog.
“I don’t think there’s any underdogs in the tournament or they wouldn’t be here,” Johnson-Odom said. “I don’t think (Murray State) is thinking they’re the underdog role – they’re playing a home game, they’re going to have everybody in the building going against us.”
However, Murray State senior guard Jewuan Long disagreed.
“We just feel like we’ve got to have the same mindset going into the game,” Long said. “We had the mindset to play like underdogs going into the first game so we’ve got to go in the same way and play with a lot of energy. We go into every game thinking we’re going to win the game. 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 tomorrow.”
With phrases like ‘a Cinderella story’ and ‘media darling’ being tossed around by media to describe Murray State, Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams doesn’t exactly agree with those titles for his team’s next opponent.
“I think it’s kind of like calling teams low major teams or mid-major teams, I think that’s somewhat disrespectful – they’ve won more games than any team in the country,” Williams said. “Coach (Steve) Prohm is on his way to setting head coaching records that have never been set before. They’ve been ranked ahead of us, I think, ever week except one all season long. They won more games in their league than we did and the play more league games than we do. They’ve won more games overall.
“So Cinderella – it’s their home court. I don’t know if Cinderella is the right word. I think that they’re a really good team, they’re deserving of being here. Their personnel and their staff are evidence of that.”
Murray State players are taking the title in stride.
“For people to look at us as a Cinderella story, it’s an honor,” junior guard Isaiah Canaan said. “But we try to stay level and remember the things that got us to this point and try to remember to continue to do those things because we know if we do that everything else will take care of itself.”
Racers Head Coach Steve Prohm isn’t discounting Marquette’s effort on the hardwood.
“We’ve got a huge task at hand,” Prohm said. “Marquette is second in the Big East. We’ve got a great deal of respect for Coach Williams and Marquette’s program, they’re very talented and they’re very tough. It’s going to be a great challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
Prohm acknowledged the task is another opportunity to make the nation familiar with Murray State.
“That’s what we talk to our team (about) all season long,” Prohm said. “We call it staying on our wall. We try to continue to keep our eyes up, stay on our wall and continue to spread our wall – continue to help our wall grow from Murray, Ky., to Western Kentucky to Central Kentucky to Louisville, Ky. Then hopefully on Saturday, with a win, it will catch the national where it will grow everywhere.”
Before news of the 11,000-student University in a small Kentucky town can spread further, the Racers must win against the Golden Eagles’ large team.
“Our guys have been tough and resilient all year long,” Prohm said. “So they’re looking forward to the challenge. (Marquette) looks like they should be top-10 draft picks in football. That’s a good thing though. That’s a compliment to them.”