Men’s basketball preview: FAU looks to close out the regular season with pair of upsets

Team hopes to gain momentum heading into Conference USA tournament


Owls guard Adonis Filer (3) makes a dunk during FAU’s 79-35 win over UTSA on Feb. 11.Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Chris Libreros, Contributing Writer

The Florida Atlantic men’s basketball team looks to end its regular season on a high note and carry that momentum into the conference tournament when it takes on two of Conference USA’s top three teams in Middle Tennessee and UAB in its final home stand.

FAU (7-22, 5-11 Conference USA) is coming off a 71-63 home loss to in-state rival Florida International University — the team’s fourth straight loss. The Owls trailed by 19 points with 6:37 left in the game before cutting the lead to six in the final minute of regulation.

The comeback would fall short as FIU junior forward Daviyon Draper hit a pair of free throws to seal FAU’s fate. Draper finished with the game-high of 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Here are some things to look for in the upcoming matchups.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders:

Middle Tennessee (19-9, 11-5 Conference USA) is coming into Thursday’s matchup against FAU as winners of its last game in which they beat Marshall 83-74. The Blue Raiders shot the ball efficiently in its win, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and making 11 3-pointers on 21 attempts.

The player to watch on Thursday will be the Blue Raiders’ senior forward Darnell Harris.

Harris scored 18 in Middle Tennessee’s prior game, shooting 4-for-4 from deep. The forward scored double digits in its first matchup against FAU as well, playing 33 minutes — the most of his teammates as part of an 85-73 over the Owls.

Harris will again look to exploit his matchup against a freshman in FAU forward Jeantal Cylla. Cylla, who also led his team in minutes in the first meeting, scored seven points against Harris, shooting 2-for-9.

That’s in part why the face off between the two forwards could be the crucial matchup of the game. Cylla will need to control Harris’ contributions to the best 3-point shooting team in Conference USA as Middle Tennessee collectively shoots a conference-best 39 percent from deep.

UAB Blazers:

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (24-5, 14-2 C-USA) are currently coming off their third straight victory as they beat Western Kentucky 71-67, clinching the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Conference USA tournament.

As the first place team in the conference, there are several facets to UAB’s game that make this team so dangerous.

One of UAB’s biggest strengths is its ball movement — it leads the conference in assists.

This mindset — of passing up a good shot to get a great shot — serves as the key reason the Blazers are also leading the conference in field goal percentage at 48.7 percent.

In FAU’s previous matchup against UAB, the Owls were handed their biggest loss this year in a 104-67 blowout.

Much of the loss can be attributed to two things: UAB’s defense smothering FAU into shooting 33.9 percent from the field and the pounding the Owls took on the glass, with UAB more than doubling FAU’s total rebound numbers — 48-21.

As said before, the Blazers aren’t selfish — seven players scored double digits in the previous matchup against FAU. With every player on the floor being a threat, this only adds to the difficulty of guarding UAB.


FAU has a tall order this week, facing off against two of the best teams in the conference. It will take Herculean efforts from the role players, hopefully injected with the boost of home court advantage, in order to mount an underdog victory against either of these two teams.

In FAU’s first game of the week against Middle Tennessee, the key for the Owls will be containing the three-point line and forcing the Blue Raiders to put the ball on the floor and make plays. In the Blue Raiders’ last five losses, the inability to score from deep severely handcuffs this team’s offense.

Unfortunately, FAU is in the bottom three in three-point defense according to Conference USA’s statistics, and for that I can’t see FAU winning here. MTSU 76, FAU 67.

In the second matchup of the week, first place UAB visits the Owls in a game where FAU will look to avenge its biggest loss of the year.

My easier-said-than-done key of the week is for FAU to show a concentrated attack for rebounds. In the two losses UAB suffered in conference play, the team was either outrebounded — like in its loss to Western Kentucky when the Blazers were outrebounded 38 to 33 — or a single rebound from a split, such as their loss to Louisiana Tech, 36 to 35.

If the Owls can hold UAB to one shot per possession, they could put themselves in an advantageous spot that could keep the game close, as opposed to the 37-point blowout they suffered on Feb. 6.

FAU’s best chance against first place UAB is to shoot the tires on the Blazers’ bus and hope they can’t make it to the arena.

All joking aside, UAB is in first place for a reason, and FAU is going to have to play some of its very best basketball to make this competitive, even at home. UAB 92, FAU 70.

Christopher Libreros is a contributing writer with the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories, he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.