Men’s Basketball: Owls set to face San Diego State in historic Final Four

On Saturday night, FAU will take on the San Diego State Aztecs in both program’s first Final Four appearance.


Nicholas Windfelder

Photo of the NCAA March Madness Final Four logo inside NRG Stadium in Houston Texas.

Zachary Watts, Staff Writer

HOUSTON – This year’s Final Four will be one of the first of its kind. It will be the first without a top four seed, with three of the four teams making their first appearance—a stark contrast to last year’s field that featured four perennial powerhouses.

The stage is set at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, where the 9-seed FAU Owls will face off with the 5-seed San Diego State University Aztecs (31-6, 15-3 MWC) on Saturday night.

It will be a rare battle of two mid-majors in the Final Four, FAU representing Conference USA and SDSU representing the Mountain West Conference, where both will be playing for their first national championship berth.

The Owls are coming off a win in the Elite 8 over the 3-seed Kansas State University Wildcats, which extended their winning streak to 11 games as they head to Houston. Meanwhile, the Aztecs are coming off a 57-56 win over the 6-seed Creighton University Bluejays, extending their own winning streak to eight games. 

“We’ve had a great week of preparation,” said head coach Dusty May, who announced on Thursday that he’d be signing a contract extension worth more than $1 million annually that keeps him at FAU. “It’s going to be an extremely tough game, but fortunately we have seen teams with similar level of discipline and approach to the game that they play with.”

The Owls are led by a trio of sophomores, including guard Johnell Davis who’s averaging 17.3 points in four tournament games thus far. Alongside him is fellow guard Alijah Martin, who’s averaging over 13 points per game, and center Vladislav Goldin, who came up big against Kansas State With a 14 point double-double and 2 blocks to help send the Owls to the Final Four.

The Owls have never relied on one star up to this point in the tournament and that won’t change heading into this game either. Players such as freshman guard Nicholas Boyd, who’s last second layup took down Memphis, and senior Michael Forrest, who iced the Kansas State victory at foul line, will also be called upon to help clinch a national championship berth. 

FAU Owls locker room for the 2023 March Madness Final Four. (Nicholas Windfelder )

The Aztecs carry an older and more experienced roster, led by senior guard Matt Bradley who leads San Diego State in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game. He’s followed by senior guard Darrion Trammell who averages 9.9 points per game, and senior forward Jaedon LeDee who averages 7.8.

The polarity between the two squads doesn’t end there either. The Owls are one of the better offensive units remaining, as their 79.3 points per game rank at 26th in the nation. While the Aztecs feature one of the strongest defensive units—they give up 62.9 points per game on defense which sits them at 24th in the country in scoring defense.

It’s very similar to competing against ourselves in practice,” said May. “They’ve had four NCAA Tournament games. They’ve had four leading scorers. So they’re much like looking in the mirror and seeing yourselves.”

The Owls are no strangers to strong defensive teams. Their route to the final four included games against a FDU squad that utilized a relentless full-court press, and a Tennessee team that had the best defensive efficiency rating in the country. Not to mention overcoming a tournament record 22 turnovers in their win over Kansas State. 

“If we can take care of the basketball, we can rebound it, then we’ll have a shot to beat San Diego State,” said May. “We know we’re not as tall as the other teams or as long, may not be as physically imposing, but we do feel we’re quick to the ball. We’re physical. We’re aggressive. And we really have a strong desire to rebound it. So I think that factors in as well.”

Both teams view themselves as underdogs coming into the matchup, though the Aztecs are listed as 2.5-point favorites heading into the game. Both the Owls and the Aztecs have notched upset wins en route to the Final Four. FAU bounced the four, three, and eight seeds in their run through the East Region, whereas the Aztecs took down the top seeded University of Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sweet 16. 

This will be the third meeting all-time between the two programs with the Aztecs taking both of the previous matchups. They haven’t met since 2002.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6:09 p.m. EST and will be broadcast by CBS.

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_