Lazar Hayward and the Marquette Golden Eagles are slight chalk at HP Pavilion when they take on Washington who pushed its way into the dance hall by taking the Pac-10 tourney.
Two hot teams from major conferences, the Marquette Golden Eagles and Washington Huskies, meet Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA torunament.
Bookmaker.com has Marquette as a 1 ½-point favorite, with a total of 143-points.
Sixth-seed Marquette (22-11 straight-up, 16-10-1 ATS) is out of the tough Big East. Eight conference teams made the Big Dance, more than any other, which means Marquette faced its share of tough competition.
Early this season, the Golden Eagles looked like an NIT team, at best. The non-conference record was 9-3 SU (3-3 ATS) and the Big East season started 2-5 SU. However, a lot of those conference games were close, going 5-2 ATS.
Marquette really came on the last seven weeks, going 11-3 SU and 8-5-1 ATS. Part of the reason was an easier schedule, but the team was also learning to play its style of ball with a new cast of players.
Forward Lazar Hayward (18.1 PPG. 7.7 RPG) is the unquestioned leader after losing last year’s senior guard trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews.
Swingman Jimmy Butler (14.9 PPG) and guard Darius Johnson-Odom (12.8 PPG) are the other double-digits scorers this season. Marquette averages just 72.9 PPG (ninth in the Big East), despite leading in three-point shooting (40.6 percent).
The Golden Eagles really get after it on the defensive end (64.2 PPG, third in the Big East). This is a small team and not great rebounders, although that should hurt less against Washington than other teams.
Depth is also an issue with the five starters logging heavy minutes, and accounting for 95 percent of the scoring the last four games.
The 11th-seed Huskies (24-9 SU, 14-18 ATS) were on the bubble until beating California in the Pac-10 Tournament final, 79-75 as two-point ‘dogs. The victory made Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott extremely happy, as it ensured a second conference team making March Madness in what’s been an historically poor season.
The Huskies went 17-2 SU and 8-10 ATS at home this year. They’re 7-7 SU and 6-8 ATS in road and neutral site games.
Washington has won seven straight games, going 6-1 ATS, with six coming away from home. That includes three games during the Pac-10 tourney in Los Angeles.
Washington is led by two of the best players in the conference, forward Quincy Pondexter (19.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and guard Isaiah Thomas (17.1 PPG). No other player scores in double-digits, although the bench is deeper than Marquette.
The goal for the Huskies in this game is to be more up-tempo. They average 79.8 PPG, seven points more than Marquette. They allow 69.9 PPG, almost six points more than Marquette. Washington has a size advantage, but it’s not that much, and there’s little separating these teams overall.
Marquette opened the NCAA tournament as a sixth seed last year, beating Utah State 58-57, failing to ‘cover’ as six-point ‘chalk.’ Washington opened as a four-seed last year, beating Mississippi State 71-58 as 6 ½-point ‘chalk.’ Both teams went on to lose in the next round.
Neither team is reporting any recent injuries. The game comes from HP Pavilion in San Jose, California at 7:20 p.m. (ET). That’s a big geographical advantage for Washington, and the crowd should tilt in its favor.