Final Four Preview: Florida Atlantic Owls vs. San Diego State Aztecs
(5) San Diego State Aztecs
NCAA Tournament Path: First round – Def. No. 12 Charleston 63-57; Second round – Def. No. 13 Furman 72-52; Sweet 16 – Def. No. 1 Alabama 71-64; Elite Eight – Def. No. 6 Creighton 57-56 to win South Regional.
Back in 2020, the Aztecs had a good squad going into the tournament. They would’ve likely been a No. 2 seed going in. They had a record of 30-2 and were ranked in to top-15 in offense and defense.
Making their first Final Four appearance this team should feel confident to take the national championship as long as they can play their game. No one plays at a slower pace than the Aztecs and they have the most division one experience on the team according to Kenpom.com.
The Aztecs don’t have a big-time star player but there are a few on this team that can shoulder the load. Darrion Trammell had a game-high 21 points against Alabama and hit the game-winning free throw against Creighton to lead the Aztecs here. A 5’10 guard that plays more like he is 6’4.
Not only is he one of the best on offense but he is arguably their best perimeter defender. Lamont Butler had a good game against Creighton with 18 points and will need to replicate that against FAU. Another guard that needs to show up is season-scoring leader Matt Bradley. On the season he averaged 12.5 points per game but against Alabama only six points and only two against Creighton. If all can score they will be a hard team to deal with.
Shot-making is a weakness for this team and the reason why their scores are low. When their shots are not falling they crash the offensive boards well. It will be hard to do with FAU because of the big man in the middle Vladislav Goldin who had 14 points and 13 rebounds in their elite eight games.
On the defensive side, they are the best in the Final Four. They are No. 4 when it comes to adjusted efficiency rating on the defensive side of the ball.
Since the Mountain West tournament, they have held their opponents to 56.6 points per game. They are ranked second in 3-point defense holding the teams they faced in the tournament to 17% (16-94). In the second weekend, they held Alabama and Creighton to five made threes. This is the type of defense they will need to beat FAU.
(9) Florida Atlantic Owls
NCAA Tournament Path: First round – Def. No. 8 Memphis 66-65; Second round – Def. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 78-70; Sweet 16 – Def. No. 4 Tennessee 62-55; Elite Eight – Def. No. 3 Kansas State 79-76 to win East Regional.
FAU is a long shot to win the national championship according to the betting odds. They are trying to become the first team to advance to a national championship game as a nine seed or lower. FAU looks like a Cinderella story but they don’t feel that way. The Owls have played 38 games this season and won 35 of them.
They have a 2-1 record against the SEC and they took down a top-three team from the Big 12. They have played seven games against the top 50 teams in Kenpom and won six of them. FAU has a shot to win the whole thing, but likely not.
This team is deep and has a couple of players that could be put in the spotlight but Johnell Davis is the top guy. Davis led the team in scoring this season averaging 13.9 points per game.
Since the tournament he has turned it up, averaging 17.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. His play along with others like Alijah Martin will be critical against one of the best defenses this season. A breakout star to watch is center Vladislav Goldin, who started his career at Texas Tech so big power conference opponents will not rattle him. A big man that can score and rebound down low.
This team is deep, athletic, and energetic and they use that to their advantage. They get up a lot of three-point shots with their up-and-down pace and good spacing. They have multiple ball handlers giving defenses a lot to deal with, making it easy for them to get into their offense.
With a deep bench, they are not afraid to pressure the ball, relying on fresh legs to keep their pace going. Nine players are playing at least 15 minutes per game and have seen a lot of action in the tournament. They rank 15th in bench minutes according to Kenpom.
More often than not the Owls will rely on their three-point shooting and they rely on it more than any other team in the Final Four. During the season they shot 36.5% from three and in the tournament only 31.2%. A pretty big drop-off for a team that will face one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. This is a legit concern for the Owls going into the national semifinal game.