The Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls paved their way to the Men’s Final Four with multiple impressive wins in which they were the underdog. Despite entering March Madness as the Conference USA champions and with a record of 31-3, not many had the Owls traveling far in their brackets. Some continue to lack belief in the strength of the Owls, although three of the four teams they have beaten were seeded higher. It is clear, however, that FAU stands out from others in certain aspects of the game that are crucial to winning in high-pressure situations, like the games of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball Tournament. Here are some of the main reasons for FAU’s Cinderella run:
FAU rarely has more than one player on their team play 30 or more minutes in a game. In the tournament, they have played a balanced nine-man rotation, something pretty unheard of at the top levels of college basketball. Most of the involved players are contributors in terms of points as well, which can cause problems for opponents, as there is no reliability on a limited few scorers. Seven different FAU players have scored in the double digits over their four games in March Madness.
Strong in the Second Half
FAU has outscored their opponents in the second half in three of their four tournament games and has a second half +/- of +17 in total. When trailing at half-time or later in the game, the Owls are never out of it. This is, of course, a combination of multiple factors, including great leadership, various dependable ball-handlers on the court, and a will to get second-chance opportunities on any play.
Free Throw Shooting Down the Stretch
The Owls have put themselves in great positions late in games but have needed to close them out from the charity stripe. They have done just this. Multiple players on the court in crunch time have stepped up and sunk free throws for the Owls to extend their leads. Johnell Davis and Michael Forrest are prime examples. Successful free throw shooting is a prized talent in college basketball, and the Owls have excelled in this realm in important moments.
Ability to Adjust
Although the Owls thrived as a high-scoring team in the regular season, averaging 78 points on the year, they have displayed the ability to win and compete at varied paces and styles. The Owls are a top 40-ranked team in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the 2023 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, showing their consistency on both sides of the court. This stability, for example, helped them to get past the defensive-minded Tennessee Volunteers and offensively-powerful Kansas State Wildcats in back-to-back rounds of March Madness.
Head Coach Dusty May has done a spectacular job bringing this group together. Much of the Owls’ core was retained from last season, and fans can see the team is close. They are willing to make the selfless extra pass, racking up more assists than their opposition in three out of four tournament games (tying in the other). After advancing to the Final Four, the whole team surrounded Coach May during his postgame interview. This togetherness has obviously benefitted the Owls as a combatant to the stressful moments of March Madness, each player knowing that their teammates have their back.
Dusty May wouldn't do the interview without his players standing beside him ❤️ @FAUMBB pic.twitter.com/FTR8pcGG3N
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 26, 2023
To win the national championship, FAU would have to execute two more upsets. In the Final Four matchup, the San Diego State Aztecs propose another defensively-focused group that the Owls must break down. While this task is tough, the team has the tools to do it on college basketball’s biggest stage. If they find a way to hoist up the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament trophy to complete this improbable run, FAU will become the lowest seed ever to do so.
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