Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Pick & Prediction MARCH 22nd 2024

No. 2 seed Marquette is hoping to get a big boost as it opens NCAA Tournament play Friday against No. 15 seed Western Kentucky in Indianapolis. Golden Eagles head coach Shaka Smart is hoping to have star guard Tyler Kolek back after he missed the final three regular-season games and all three games in the Big East tournament with a strained oblique. “The plan is for him to play,” Smart said. “But he’s got to go through a progression this week. And so once we get back on the practice court, we’ll be able to continue that progression.” Marquette (25-9), which went 3-3 without Kolek, advanced to the Big East championship game before bowing out to No. 1 UConn. Conference USA tournament champion Western Kentucky (22-11) overcame a four-game losing streak at the end of the regular season.

Kolek was averaging 15.0 points. 7.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds before the injury on Feb. 28 in a home win over Providence.

“Obviously, we can’t wait to have him back,” teammate David Joplin said. “I was talking to him other day like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to have your back. I miss you out there.’ But until then, we’re going hold it down for him.” Kam Jones leads Marquette at 16.8 points per game and has picked up the slack for Kolek. This will be just the second meeting between Marquette and Western Kentucky, with Marquette prevailing, 79-60, in the opening round of the 1976 NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio. “We’re not satisfied just to be in it,” Smart said. “Actually, I know Coach (Steve) Lutz pretty well from Western Kentucky. He does a heck of a job. But more importantly, it’s about being the best us and that’s what we work toward all year.”

Western Kentucky qualified by beating UTEP 78-71 in the Conference USA tournament final. The Hilltoppers are led by Don McHenry, who is averaging 15.2 points this season. Brandon Newman (10.5 ppg) and Rodney Howard (10.0 ppg) also average double figures in scoring. “When you get to the NCAA Tournament, your prep’s going to be short and you’re going to see an opponent that probably doesn’t know everything about you,” Lutz said. “So, it’s a fresh start is the way I look at it. “Shaka Smart is a good coach. I know that he’s going to do a good job and his staff will do a good job in prepping, but it’ll be a new game where people are starting at square one, kind of like the beginning of the season. When we play Marquette on Friday, obviously we’ll give it our best but to get here at this point, especially in the first season, is fantastic.”

–Field Level Media

Docsports, The most trusted name in sports handicapping