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March Madness Analysis: How Florida Atlantic Made the Final Four

Conference USA Champions Ready to Shock the World

The Florida Atlantic Owls’ NCAA Tournament history consisted of a loss to Alabama in the first round in 2002. There were also opening-round losses in the 2011 NIT, 2019 CIT and 2022 CBI.

Now, Florida Atlantic is in the Final Four and two wins away from a rather improbable national title.

Head coach Dusty May of the Florida Atlantic Owls celebrates with the team after defeating in the Elite Eight round game
Head coach Dusty May of the Florida Atlantic Owls celebrates with the team after defeating in the Elite Eight round game |Elsa/getty images/afp

When considering making March Madness predictions, Florida Atlantic is 14th nationally in 3-pointers made and connected on 34 treys during the four tournament games. They are also in the top 20 in rebounding.

Johnell Davis is averaging 17.3 points in the NCAA Tournament and he joins Alijah Martin and Vladislav Goldin as double-digit scorers. They are also the top three rebounders on the team.

According to the March Madness expert picks, the Owls (+600) have the longest odds to win NCAA Tournament.

When looking at the March Madness picks, San Diego State is listed as a two-point favorite in the first of Saturday’s national semifinals at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Here’s a look at how the Owls got this far.

How did They get into March Madness Bracket?

It would have been an interesting call if Florida Atlantic had lost in the Conference USA tournament.

The Owls had a gaudy NET ranking. However, the non-conference schedule comes in at 251st according to the Pomeroy college basketball ratings. There was a win over Florida, but not much else to give the committee a reason to take them as an at-large team. Would a team that was 28-3 in the regular season get an invitation?

FAU ended the speculation with wins over Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and UAB to secure an automatic spot in the tournament.

The semifinal game against Middle Tennessee was a little tricky. Deandre Dishman missed a layup with four seconds left that would have given the Blue Raiders the lead and then Camryn Weston’s potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

Road to the Final Four

FAU drew a Memphis team coming off an upset of Houston in the American Athletic Conference tournament in the first round in one of the most intriguing 8-9 matchups.

Nicholas Boyd’s layup with two seconds left lifted FAU to the one-point win for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win.

With top-seeded Purdue falling to Fairleigh Dickinson, the Owls went into the second round as the favorite against the Northeast Conference tournament finalists.

Johnell Davis had 29 points and 12 rebounds as the Owls won a tussle with FDU.

Florida Atlantic overcame a five-point halftime deficit to Tennessee and Michael Forrest went 4 of 4 from the foul line in the final 18 seconds as the Owls held off Kansas State to secure a spot in the Final Four.

Looking at the Staff

Florida Atlantic went after some big names to try to become a relevant program at the Division I level.

Former NBA forward Sidney Green got the Owls into the NCAA Tournament in his third season. Matt Doherty followed up stints as the head coach at Notre Dame and North Carolina by posting a 15-13 mark in his only season at FAU before leaving for SMU.

Mike Jarvis went from being Patrick Ewing’s high school coach to coaching at Boston University, George Washington and St. John‘s. Jarvis did coach the Owls into the 2011 NIT. However, that was his only winning season in his six years.

Beginning with the final three years with Jarvis calling the shots, FAU had nine straight seasons with losing records in conference play. That changed last season with Dusty May in his third year. A 19-win campaign followed before the breakthrough this season.

A Look at the Roster

May landed guards Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin and Nicholas Boyd out of Indiana, Mississippi and New York, as well as 6-foot-8 Florida native Giancarlo Rosado, as part of a freshman class that arrived in 2020.

Guard Bryan Greenlee also joined the program in 2020 after beginning his career at Minnesota. They joined Michael Forrest, now in his fifth season with the Owls.

Vladislav Goldin transferred in from Texas Tech in 2021 and freshman Brandon Weatherspoon also arrived for the 2021-22 season. Former UConn guard Jalen Gaffney joined the team this season.

Willing to Sacrifice

The key to the turnaround has been the willingness of key players to accept different roles.

Forrest went from starting all 34 games a season ago and putting up 13.2 points per game to coming off the bench in all but one game. His scoring numbers dropped to 8.4 points per game. However, he gives the Owls a scoring threat off the bench

Greenlee is another player who accepted a diminished role as his 24.6 minutes per game are the fewest of his three seasons at FAU.

As a result, seven players average more than 20 minutes per game and two others top 15 minutes, giving May options off the bench.

Florida Atlantic led Conference USA with a 24-11-1 mark against the college basketball spread. That is second only to UConn among the Final Four teams.

FAU has covered against the college basketball odds in eight of its last 11 games.

The Owls have been listed by the sportsbook as the underdog in three of the four NCAA Tournament games while five of their last seven games finished under the total.

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