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Marquette the “road” team vs. Murray State

Updated: April 19, 2012 8:34AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Can quickness neutralize size and strength in basketball?

‘‘I think so,’’ first-year Murray State coach Steve Prohm said Friday as his No. 6 seed Racers (31-1) prepared to face No. 3 seed Marquette (26-7) on Saturday in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams agreed.

‘‘Fast beats big when fast is fast,’’ he said. ‘‘I learned that as a little boy, and I believe that and I coach that. I recruit that. I teach that.’’

But size against quickness won’t be the only matchup in the showdown between Big East-tested Marquette and the mid-major kings who have been ranked in the Top 25 all year.

The Racers might be smaller than the Golden Eagles, but they are dangerous because they are skilled, Williams said. They also will be playing in front of a home crowd.

‘‘They do have a lot of fans here. That’s expected,’’ Marquette’s Jae Crowder said. ‘‘But we face it like any road game. It’s just the NCAA tournament. This time of year, we’ve got to face it. I don’t feel like the bad guy.’’

Despite their seed, the Racers shouldn’t be considered ‘‘underdogs,’’ Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom said.

‘‘I don’t think there are any underdogs in the tournament, or they wouldn’t be here,’’ he said. ‘‘We were an 11 seed last year [and reached the Sweet 16], but we all thought we could do the things that we did last year. I don’t think Murray State is thinking they’re the underdog. They’re going to have everyone in the building going against us.’’

In 6-foot guard Isaiah Canaan, the Racers have the Ohio Valley player of the year and a tournament-tested veteran. He was in the spotlight a year ago after he bobbled the ball on a last-second possession that might have beaten eventual national runner-up Butler.

‘‘I watched it over and over, just seeing things I could have [done] better, and I just learned from it,’’ Canaan said. ‘‘You’ve always got to take failures in order to learn.’’

The Racers had more victories this season than any team in the nation, losing only to conference rival Tennessee State.

‘‘You study their offensive numbers, and they’re top 10 in nearly everything, but specifically in efficiency,’’ Williams said. ‘‘One of the things that helps their effective field-goal percentage is 18 percent of their points come in transition, and of that 18 percent, they shoot 73 percent from the field. When you shoot a lot of layups and dunks, that helps your efficiency in every area. Our transition defense will be critical.

‘‘I don’t know that they’re ‘Cinderella’, and I think that’s somewhat disrespectful. Coach Prohm is on his way to setting head-coaching records that have never been set before. They’ve been ranked ahead of us every week but one all season. I think they’re a really good team, deserving of being here.’’

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