Western Kentucky vs. Marquette Prediction, Odds and Key Players for NCAA Tournament First Round

Betting odds, pick and prediction for the 2024 NCAA Tournament First Round matchup between Western Kentucky and Marquette.

March 17, 2024: Marquette Golden Eagles head coach Shaka Smart shares a moment with his players, junior forward David Joplin and freshman guard Zaide Lowery.
March 17, 2024: Marquette Golden Eagles head coach Shaka Smart shares a moment with his players, junior forward David Joplin and freshman guard Zaide Lowery. / Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel /

Conference USA champion Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will duel with the Big East runner-ups Marquette Golden Eagles in an opening round matchup in the NCAA Tournament.

This game will take place in the South Region between a No. 15 and No. 2 seed in Indianapolis. Western Kentucky took down underdog UTEP 78-71 in the C-USA championship, while Marquette suffered defeat to UConn 73-57 in the Big East title game.

It is generally rare to see a No. 15 team be able to topple one of the more heavyweight teams of the tournament, but it has certainly happened before. The Hilltoppers are here with a lot to prove against a strong Golden Eagles squad who is primed for a potential deep run.

Who has the overall edge? Can Western Kentucky pull off the unthinkable?

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Western Kentucky vs. Marquette Odds, Spread and Total

Western Kentucky vs. Marquette Betting Trends

  • Western Kentucky is 19-11 ATS this season
  • Marquette is 6-2 ATS following a loss this season
  • Western Kentucky has gone OVER in 15 of 30 Division I games this season
  • Marquette is 11-4-1 ATS in games with equal rest
  • Western Kentucky is 8-3 ATS as an underdog this season

Western Kentucky vs. Marquette: How To Watch

  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Game Time: 2:00 PM EST
  • Venue: Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
  • How To Watch (TV, Streaming): TBS, NCAA March Madness Live
  • Western Kentucky Record: 22-11
  • Marquette Record: 25-9

Western Kentucky vs. Marquette Key Players To Watch

Western Kentucky

Don McHenry: On mid-major teams, there are always going to be individual players that can carry their squad through a difficult matchup. This is the role that Don McHenry takes within the Hilltoppers offense. A dynamic scorer who wasn’t afraid to attack the rim in their title game against UTSA, McHenry posted 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field. He had a stretch of five consecutive games in early February with 20-plus points. Efficiency is critical in the NCAA Tournament and this is a moment for him to prove to the entire country that the Hilltoppers are the next No. 15 seed to watch for.


David Joplin: Junior forward David Joplin is going to be one to keep an eye out for in this game. He’s starting to find some consistency offensively, posting double digit points in all of Marquette’s Big East tournament matchups.

He has become a nice complement to his counterpart Oso Ighodaro, who generally takes on more of the scoring in this Golden Eagles offense. With both players listed at 6-foot-9 (Joplin) and 6-foot-11 (Ighodaro), their size and physicality can match up with the best in the country. I’m interested to see if Joplin keeps finding scoring avenues to exploit in this matchup.

Western Kentucky vs. Marquette Prediction and Pick

This tournament game becomes interesting depending upon how efficient Tyler Kolek will be coming off an oblique injury he suffered back on Feb. 28. Head coach Shaka Smart has confidently alluded to him returning to the lineup on Friday which instantly boosts Marquette’s lineup, especially due to his 7.6 assists per game, the best in the nation.

He is one of the best players in the country and is the ultimate facilitator for an offense that is 22nd in effective field goal percentage (55.1 percent). With his return at just the right time, this makes the Golden Eagles a deep tournament threat.

Despite a 16-point loss on Saturday, Marquette hung in with UConn for about 30 minutes out of the game. The problem was that as soon as the Huskies started making some big shots in the second half, the floodgates opened.

What Marquette did an excellent job on was attacking the perimeter game of the Huskies. Kam Jones, Stevie Mitchell and Chase Ross who have all taken on extra minutes, stayed tight on their matchups and helped each other by rotating on double teams and forcing UConn to use most of the shot clock and force poor percentage shots.

They ended up shooting 7-for-24 from deep, below their season average. It all forms together with the brilliant game plans of Smart, one of the best coaches in the game.

What jumps out with WKU is its issues of getting into foul trouble. The team sits in the bottom 70 teams in the country (308th), averaging 18.7 fouls per game. Playing against a power conference team is a massive workload to begin with and racking up fouls can make it considerably more difficult to stay in a game of this caliber.

Despite the foul trouble, they can be a productive unit on offense as they hold down 25th in made field goals per game (28.9) and this is going to be their best attack. 

The Hilltoppers new head coach, Steve Lutz, has an NCAA Tournament win under his belt. He led Texas A&M Corpus-Christi to a win in the First Four last season against Southeast Missouri State, the program’s first ever tournament win.

Experience matters for mid-major programs on this stage. In three seasons as a head coach in college basketball, Lutz’s mark of 69-34 speaks for itself. He was formerly an assistant with Purdue and Creighton, two powerful programs that certainly helped mold him into his position today.

When it comes down to it, lay the points with Marquette. Larger spreads can get scary and it won’t be easy, but this is the better team in the matchup. Even if Kolek doesn’t look 100 percent, there’s too much additional firepower for Western Kentucky to overcome on such a high IQ basketball team.

Shaka gets his guys ready for any situation. They’ve been battle tested in the Big East all season and with guys like Mitchell, Ross and Ighodaro stepping up, facing that adversity without Kolek has brought this team closer together.

Pick: Marquette -14.5

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Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.