- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Thursday's slate of second-round games at the KFC Yum! Center didn't offer a lot of intrigue. All four higher seeds won by an average of 16 points.
Maybe they were just setting the stage for a dramatic doubleheader Saturday. On paper, at least, we have the possibility of two great games. The opener features teams with similar, fast-paced styles, while the nightcap pits the tournament's No. 1 overall seed against an upstart that might have the right ingredients for an upset.
Here's a closer look at Saturday's two third-round games in Louisville:
No. 3 seed Marquette (26-7) vs. No. 6 Murray State (31-1), 5:15 p.m. ET
What to watch: Each team must feel like it's looking into a mirror when scouting the other. Both like to crowd passing lanes and push the pace, and though neither is particularly big, their frontcourt players are active around the rim. So the question is, which one does it better? Marquette has more ability to switch up styles and pound the ball inside, especially when 6-foot-8, 290-pound forward Davante Gardner comes off the bench. He is averaging 17 points and six rebounds in three games since returning from a knee injury. But Murray State should have a significant crowd advantage from its fans who made the short trip here, and from Kentucky backers who likely will pick up their fellow state school's cause.
Who to watch: Both teams have terrific lead guards who could match up against one another. Murray State will almost assuredly need a big game from star Isaiah Canaan to have a chance to advance. The Racers' backcourt will have to slow down Darius Johnson-Odom, who can fill it up from outside or stutter-step and drive the lane. But the Golden Eagles' Jae Crowder presents the toughest matchup problem with his versatility. The 6-6 slasher had 25 points and 16 rebounds in the win against BYU. It's not height but bulk that might bother Murray State, as players like Johnson-Odom and Crowder look like they've spent as much time on their bench press as their jump shot. "They look like they should all be in spring practice at Alabama and LSU playing defensive back and linebacker," Racers coach Steve Prohm said.
Why to watch: This has all the makings of an entertaining, up-and-down game that shouldn't tax the shot clock operator. Canaan and Crowder are among the best players in the country. The winner of this game has a very real chance at making it to the West Region final and beyond.
What they're saying: "For people to look at us as a Cinderella story, it's an honor. But we try to stay level and remember the things that got us to this point, and try to remember to do those things. Because we know if we do that, everything else will take care of itself." -- Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan.
"You just visualize what the moment will be like when you see your 14 guys celebrating going to the Sweet 16. And that's how you're preparing right now, so those guys can have that moment." -- Murray State coach Steve Prohm.
"It's like watching Syracuse. You watch six or seven games, and by the time you're watching the eighth game, you're like, 'Yeah, they just do the same stuff over and over and over. Not to be over-simplistic, but maybe that's why they win." -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams, on scouting Murray State.
"They've got good guards, their bigs run in transition. We've got to get back in transition and keep the ball out of the paint. They look like they come to play and fight every night, and that's how we play." -- Marquette guard Junior Cadougan.
Of note: Donte Poole took an elbow to the nose on Thursday against Colorado State. The Murray State guard said his nose was sore and congested, but he plans on playing Saturday without a protective face mask. ... Marquette is looking to make its second straight Sweet 16 appearance and 15th overall. Murray State has never advanced that far. ... This is just the second meeting between the schools. The first came in the 1969 NCAA tournament, with Marquette winning 82-62.
No. 1 seed Kentucky (33-2) vs. No. 8 Iowa State (23-10), approximately 7:45 p.m. ET
What to watch: Kentucky should get its first real challenge of the tournament against an Iowa State team that took out defending champion Connecticut with ease Thursday night. The Cyclones can bury you from 3-point land by putting four shooters outside the arc on most possessions, but they also can get physical inside, as they showed against UConn. Of course, Kentucky still has Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and all that other NBA talent, and it will be playing in the friendliest Big Blue confines outside of Rupp Arena. So Iowa State will be a heavy underdog, but that's a role this team has wholeheartedly embraced.
Who to watch: Iowa State's Royce White nearly transferred to Kentucky from Minnesota two years ago. John Calipari visited him in Minneapolis and said "it was done." But when it came time for White to enroll in summer school, he balked. White, who has an anxiety disorder, said he felt uncomfortable getting on a plane, and the mother of his first son had just found out she was pregnant again. Could White come back to haunt the Wildcats? He's one of the most unorthodox players in the country, a 6-8, 270-pounder who serves as the team's primary ball-handler and distributor. If he can throw his weight around inside and find open shooters, look out. But Kentucky also has big men who can play on the perimeter. "He's not LeBron James," Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said. "Can we pressure him? Yeah. He's not special."
Why to watch: The tournament favorite against a very game underdog? That's appointment television.
What they're saying: "We've got to do a great job of trying to keep their guards in front of us and try to make them shoot contested jump shots over us. Because if you do give up guard penetration to the middle, they have incredible athleticism and length, and they can just kind of flip it up there on the rim." -- Iowa State guard Scott Christopherson.
"I think I read somewhere that we were only picked in 32 percent of the brackets on the ESPN challenge. We have played that underdog role, and we have played it well. Our guys have gone out there and taken it personally. And hopefully, we'll do that again [Saturday] night." -- Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
"It's not nerves that I'm worried about. Iowa State is a really good team. I watched some tapes where I had to stop watching because I started getting worried that we can't beat this team. So I'm trying to watch a tape or two where they've lost. ... This is going to be one of the toughest games we've played in a while." -- Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Of note: Hoiberg played against Kentucky in the second round of the 1992 NCAA tournament when he was a Cyclones freshman. Hoiberg scored two points and fouled out of a 106-98 loss. "It was the only game in my college career that I fouled out," Hoiberg said. ... Looking ahead? Kentucky guard Marquis Teague said he hopes to see No. 4 seed Indiana -- which handed the Wildcats their only regular-season loss -- in next week's Sweet 16. "We want to play them because of the way they beat us," he said. "We're upset about that." ... White is Iowa State's only starter taller than 6-6, but the Cyclones have outrebounded their past 10 opponents. ... Kentucky's Jones is on a roll in March, averaging 20.8 points and 11 rebounds in his past four games.