Men’s Basketball: Owls set to meet Tennessee in Sweet 16

On Thursday night, FAU will take on the 4-seed Tennessee Volunteers in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.


Courtesy of FAU Athletics

Senior guard Michael Forrest squaring up with a defender against Memphis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2023.

Zachary Watts, Staff Writer

After two wins thus far during the NCAA Tournament, FAU men’s basketball (33-3, 18-2 C-USA) now has its eyes upon its next challenge, the University of Tennessee Volunteers (25-10, 11-7 SEC) in the Sweet 16. 

The Owls are coming off a win against 16-seed, and favorites to be this tournament’s Cinderella story, Fairleigh Dickinson University 78-70, and are looking to continue a fairy tale run of their own. 

The Volunteers are looking to stunt a historic season for the Owls, and are coming off an impressive win against Duke University in the Round of 32, outmuscling the Blue Devils 65-52. 

The Sweet 16 showdown will take place in Madison Square Garden in New York City on Thursday, March 23.

At stake is a chance to advance to the “Elite 8”. For Tennessee, it would be their second appearance; As for the Owls, it would be their first in program history and just their third NCAA Tournament victory.

The Owls’ 9-seed led some to label FAU as the “Cinderella” heading into the tournament, but their 33-3 record—tied for best in the country—says otherwise; and so does head coach Dusty May.

We never felt like we were a Cinderella story,” said May after the Round of 32 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson. “Because of our record, because of the players in that locker room.”

The Owls have put together some impressive wins due to the complimentary team basketball they have played thus far and are led by sophomore Guard Johnell Davis who’s been the spark plug and leader for his team. 

In his last game, Davis became the first player in NCAA tournament history to score 29 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, and five steals in an NCAA Tournament game. The All-C-USA guard is averaging 13.9 points per game on 50% shooting from the field. 

Alongside him is fellow sophomore guard Alijah Martin, when paired with Davis, has proven to be a dangerous combo for the Owls, and will be expected to the point of emphasis heading into this matchup against the Volunteers. Martin’s putting up 13.1 points per game on 42.9% shooting from the field.

Tennessee will bring everything the Owls can handle. The 4-seed Volunteers have stunted opponents with one of the nation’s best defenses, which ranks third in the NCAA in scoring defense, on their way to a sweet 16 berth. 

Most importantly, it’s their intensity and their physicality,” said May on what stands out to him about the Volunteers. “They play every single possession like it’s their last.”

Offensively, they’ve relied on senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua, who had a career day in their victory over Duke, with 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting. 

Both teams also like to rely on their depth. The Volunteers rely on a nine-man rotation which provides a very balanced scoring attack, and the Owls take a similar approach, having seven players average 20+ minutes per game. 

That’s the beauty of our team,” said May. “I do think that’s alleviated a lot of stress this year, knowing that we are two deep at almost every position.

Physicality will most likely be the determining factor for the winner of this matchup; both teams are well-rounded defensively so both will be looking to assert their dominance.

The Broadway showdown will surely shape up to be a battle of depth, with the winner taking a spot in the Elite 8; which will put them 2 wins away from a national championship appearance at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Tipoff from Madison Square Garden is scheduled for 9 p.m. and will be broadcast by TBS.

Zachary Watts is a staff writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories email [email protected] or tweet him at @ZachWatts1_