What: #1 RV FAU (28-3) vs. #8 WKU (16-15) / #9 UTEP (14-17)
When: March 9th, @ 6:30 PM Eastern
Where: Ford Center at The Star
Series: Hilltoppers have a 17-9 lead against FAU, while the Owls possess a 7-6 edge against the Miners. FAU swept both teams during the regular season.
Radio: FoxSports 640
Live Stats: Here
FAU at a Glance:
Offense - 79 PPG, 47% FG, 38% 3PT
Defense - 66 PPGA, 41% FGA, 33% 3PTA
Rebounding - 38 RPG Owls, 33 RPG Opponents
This year has been one for the ages for FAU men's basketball.
It also was a season that was unexpected from the team. After a 19-15 performance that featured an appearance in the CBI Tournament during the 2021-22 campaign, media members projected them to finish fifth out of 11 teams in Conference USA. They may have shown potential to be greater than the sum of their parts in prior years, but one win is all it takes to ignite a run FAU fans have never seen before.
Beginning with a thrilling 76-74 upset victory on the road in Gainesville against the Florida Gators, the Owls embarked on a program-record 20-game winning streak that will be very hard for future squads to break. This streak propelled them into the AP Top 25 poll multiple times going as high as 19th, as well as appearing at their highest in USA Today's Coaches Poll at the 20th spot.
Even after the streak snapped, FAU persevered to finish the season strong going undefeated at home in The Burrow for the first time in program history and breaking another program record to now have the longest home winning streak at 18 games and counting. With their win in the home finale, they also secured their first-ever Conference USA Regular Season title since entering the league in 2014. Matter of fact, their 28 regular season wins is the most by any C-USA team since Cincinnati (now AAC-member) reached the milestone during the 1995-96 campaign.
With this astounding success, C-USA gave the team multiple accolades including two First Team nods, one Third Team nomination, the Sixth Player of the Year, and lastly the Coach of the Year which of course went to Dusty May.
"Our staff, coaching staff, support staff, strength staff, medical staff, so many people go into helping these players be the absolute best they can be," May said. "I'm the one that's fortunate enough to have my name on the award but there's no way that I'm anymore important than any one of these other guys that helped do this."
With all the achievements they accomplished throughout the regular season, they now move on to the next step: going far in the C-USA Tournament and presenting a strong case to punch their ticket to the Big Dance of the NCAA Tournament.
The Owls will not be heading to Frisco alone. The way fans packed The Burrow with FAU winning as much as they did, university officials made sure the team has a boatload of support from their fans at the tournament by putting together a fundraiser to cover flight costs, hotel costs, transportation costs, and ticket costs.
According to Katie Burke, vice president of Alumni and Community Engagement, 30 students and four staff members will be heading to the tournament to cheer on the team. About a third of those students are from the Prowlers Club, a subset of the Student Alumni Association that energizes home crowds at FAU sports games. The pep band will also be traveling to Frisco to perform while supporting their Owls.
"They're truly making history and it's something all of us, from alumni to the community to our current students, should all be proud of," Burke said. "It's a very unselfish group and it's just been really representative of who I think our students are as a whole at FAU."
Burke, who will be making the trip to Frisco herself, said it is awesome to ride the historic wave the team created and is excited to witness them be on the cusp of making March Madness.
"It's the type of energy and visibility for our institution that shows people that we are a force," Burke said. "It's a type of story that will remind people why we're such a gem of an institution and why watching us makes everybody proud."
May shared Burke's sentiments, saying it's great to see fans go out of their way to watch them play in the tournament.
"I'm just very appreciative of the people that give out their most valuable resources, their time and money in beautiful South Florida, to come in, sit in a gym and watch our guys play basketball," May said. "It's a testament to how they operate in between those lines because we have a special group of not only players, but more importantly, people. These guys are incredible young men that are the future leaders of whatever they decide to do."
FAU has just three wins in the C-USA Championship since joining in 2013: a 66-56 victory over Old Dominion in 2020, a 76-70 nail-biter against UTEP in 2021, and an 86-59 blowout against Southern Miss last year.
3/08/14 vs Marshall L 63-59
3/09/16 vs Old Dominion L 72-46
3/08/17 vs Marshall L 89-74
3/07/18 vs UAB L 83-72
3/13/19 vs La Tech L 57-56
3/11/20 vs Old Dominion W 66-56
3/10/21 vs UTEP W 76-70
3/11/21 vs La Tech L 75-69
3/9/22 vs Southern Miss W 86-59
3/10/22 vs UAB L 80-66
The team will land in Frisco this year at the top in many of the league's statistical categories overall. They dominated the conference in 3-pointers made (314, also a program record), 3-point percentage (37.8%), field-goal percentage (47.2%), and defensive rebounds (858). They also did great in points per game (79.3; 2nd), field-goal percentage allowed (41.1%; 2nd), and points allowed per game (65.7; 3rd).
Ending the season on a four-game winning streak, various outlets have them ranked within the top 30 of the country from 28th to as high as 11th entering the tournament.
- RPI 11th
- Net 15th
- KenPom 27th
- AP Top 25 27th
- USA Today Coaches Poll 28th
Past C-USA tournaments saw FAU have to play in the first round to even have a chance of getting to the quarterfinals. They won't have to worry about it this year thanks to clinching the top spot in the league and getting an extra day of rest to prepare for the winner between Western Kentucky and UTEP.
"It's a little disadvantageous on the first day because the other team had played the day before, and they're familiar with the gym, the background, all those things," May said. "But it's an advantage long term. We'll take it, we've worked very hard to put ourselves in this position. We know we can only control what we can and that's playing good basketball possession by possession."
Some would think it is hard for teams to win against a certain opponent three times in a season. However, May thinks differently from that concept even with the Owls having already won against Western Kentucky and UTEP twice this year.
"It's very difficult to beat a team one time in Conference USA, and it's incredibly difficult to do it on their home floor. Fortunately, we're on a neutral site where no one has home-court advantage," May said. "We try to take the odds and play in our favor, and I'd much rather be playing these teams after having already beat them twice than losing to them twice."
One could expect sophomore center Vlad Goldin to play an integral role for the Owls during the tournament. He averaged 10.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game with May noting how his learning of not getting in foul trouble was a big component of how the team went on their 20-game winning streak.
"By him avoiding foul trouble, we've been able to stay in our rotations. We've been able to utilize the hot hand or whoever was playing well between him and Giancarlo [Rosado] versus having to play certain guys because of foul trouble," May said. "His growth and development, he's grown exponentially in every facet."
It would also be fair to assume the scoring tandem of sophomore guards Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin will keep on rocking for FAU. The duo were mainly responsible for why the Owls have the best scoring bench in the entire country at 36.7 points per game, getting their spots on C-USA's All-Conference First Team in the process.
"They're both capable of scoring 30 on a given night. They're both capable of creating their own shots and making plays in the open floor," May said. "We try to keep it very simple and fortunately, our guys are all skilled, talented and bought into playing good basketball with each other."
Regardless of what happens, May said if the team loses, it's because their opponent outplayed them and not because the moment was too big for them to handle.
"They're confident, they believe in each other, they believe in themselves, and they give me a lot of confidence to sleep at night knowing what they're really made of. They're fearless," May said.