There's so much to process from the FAU men's basketball media day on Wednesday, Oct. 18. Here are five quotes that together tell a story as the Owls set out to see what they can do as follow-up to one of the most successful seasons by any college basketball mid-major ever.
For sure, they aren't going to surprise anyone, bringing almost everyone back from a 35-4 team that came within one defensive stop of the national championship game. But it's hard to say with 100 percent accuracy they've gone from hunters to hunted—not after hunting the high-profile games that populate their 2023-24 non-conference schedule.
To begin explaining the mentality behind this, the first quote belongs to …
1. Coach Dusty May: "We felt an obligation to play as many big games, high-profile television games, and as many high-level opponents as would play us."
The Owls found a slew of those, course. The peak highlights of the non-conference schedule are Arizona (No. 6 in the preseason Ken Pomeroy rankings) and Illinois (No. 19), but legitimate challenge awaits the Owls for almost every game.
Pomeroy ranks all 362 men's college basketball teams based on empirical predictive data, Florida Atlantic landing No. 37 on the preseason list. Seven other guaranteed non-conference opponents appear in the top 100, and among them only two (No. 76 Liberty and No. 97 Charleston) are home games.
Four of the other five are on a neutral court—No. 70 St. Bonaventure at Springfield, Mass., and three more at the ESPN Invitational in Orlando (No. 96 Butler on Day 1, either No. 24 Texas A&M or No. 85 Penn State on Day 2, and one from the group of No. 31 Iowa State, No. 63 Boise State, No. 65 Virginia Tech and No. 86 VCU on Day 3).
It doesn't stop there, though. Season-opening foe Loyola-Chicago, a true road game in Chicagoland, is No. 75, and the other non-conference road opponent, always-dangerous Florida Gulf Coast, is No. 147. Even arch-rival FIU barely missed the top half of the KenPom rankings, checking in at No. 183.
May said Florida Atlantic initiated conversations that led to some of the big games. But he also said television and individual event producers came calling for many others. He said TV folks in particular found the narrative of a Final Four team returning virtually intact in the college transfer portal age too irresistible to pass up. FAU found the opportunity for high-level exposure of the university equally irresistible.
"We wanted to schedule a lot of these games in the past and did not have that opportunity," May said. "It would have been irresponsible of us to finally have the opportunity and pass on any of them … We did it because we wanted our guys to be on the biggest stage and competing against the best, night-in, night-out."
Mission pretty much accomplished.
Fortunately for the Owls …
2. Forward Giancarlo Rosado: "We're approaching every game with laser-like focus."
That will matter, in part because of occasional "trap games" on the schedule but mostly because of its season-long ruggedness, especially once American Athletic Conference play begins. Rosado, the third-year post player, said the Owls' frame-by-frame connectedness—their mantra last season—will continue.
Believe him when he says the players will continue to play for one another. Or listen to …
3. Guard Nick Boyd, asked to summarize the gratification of "running it back" in one sentence: "Seeing the same faces every day."
The third-year guard reiterated the belief among the players that their bond is strong and everlasting. The players understand roles will change a little this year and maybe even greater sacrifice of individual moments will be required. But they're confident their togetherness will ensure that obligation is met. They've just put in a long summer in the gym in which they've grown physically and in maturity.
Don't be surprised to see a team that looks more adult. The Owls got bigger and stronger over the summer, but according to …
4. Guard Jalen Gaffney: "It’s also how you carry yourself."
The senior guard noted the Owls enter the season emboldened with confidence from how well they performed in the national spotlight last March. "Knowing that you have a lot more eyes on us as well helps us," he said. "We have that maturity to grow as men. I think what we went through last year, we know what we have to do to win."
If the Owls draw new strength for anywhere as a group, it's from their own off-season preparation. And to a man, the Owls believe in what they achieved over the summer. Or in the words of …
5. Wing Brandon Weatherspoon: "At the end of last year, I remember that Coach May told us (entering the summer) to try to beat the guy you were last year, and I think every one of us can beat the guy we were last year."
And now Weatherspoon and his teammates—his better-than-last-year brothers—will try to beat the most challenging array of opponents they could ever relish.