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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

COLUMN: Where do two brutal losses leave FAU Men’s Basketball now?

Losses to FGCU and Charlotte in the past week and a half have blurred FAU’s once clear path back to March. Yet, there’s still time to right the ship.
The+FAU+mens+basketball+team+in+huddle+prior+to+their+100-57+home+opener+victory+over+Eastern+Michigan+on+Tuesday%2C+Nov.+14%2C+2023.
Gasner Delvarin, Jr.
The FAU men’s basketball team in huddle prior to their 100-57 home opener victory over Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

A year ago, it took an entire season for FAU to lose four games. 

It took five months of them trotting onto the court 39 separate times to reach that fourth loss. It would have been even longer if that last shot by San Diego State’s Lamont Butler in the national semifinal was an inch or two to the right or left. 

Fast forward to today, and after their last-second loss to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on Saturday — the second of two brutal losses in eight days — this year’s squad has already eclipsed that total just three games into conference play.

The new Final Four banner added to the Eleanor Baldwin Arena rafters on Oct 25th 2023. (Erika Fletcher)

Interestingly enough, the Owls’ struggles are only a recent development; What looked like a rather straightforward path to another NCAA tournament bid two weeks ago is now as convoluted and blurry as ever. 

To start the season — save the loss to Bryant — they looked much like the team many billed them to be all summer. They whizzed past Loyola-Chicago before an impressive win in the ESPN Invitational, in which they downed the twelfth-ranked team in the country at the time, Texas A&M University. They finished the rest of their non-conference schedule strong, falling to the University of Illinois but finishing with arguably the most significant regular season win in program history by stunning fourth-ranked Arizona in Las Vegas in double overtime.

In the same fashion as every group of college-aged males that have traveled to Las Vegas, they left with a brutal hangover.

Since then, they’ve lost their first true road game to Florida Gulf Coast University, survived a dogfight with Eastern Carolina University thanks to a complete collapse by the Pirates down the stretch, and then falling to Charlotte, another sub .500 opponent.

Even if you came into the season without wearing rose-colored sunglasses – with even the most realistic of expectations  – you’re still probably wondering what the hell is wrong with the Owls. 

This is fair since they got through what was supposed to be the toughest stretch of their schedule with as impressive a resume as they could have hoped for. The non-conference portion was supposed to be their real test, and they passed with flying colors. All that just to start slipping now?

It’s easy to point to that Arizona win and say maybe they overlooked some of the little guys on their schedule. The win vaulted them to seventh in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and the 11th team in the nation according to Ken Pom, a leading basketball analytics website. But it was also the fashion they won that game in. 

Arizona’s star guard Caleb Love was having one of the most fantastic games of his career. He finished the night with 26 points, hitting one big shot after another as if he refused to let the Wildcats lose. But much like how they made their way through the tournament a season ago, FAU kept scratching and clawing until double overtime, when they put them away. Everyone was singing their praises.

That fact that so many rejected that opinion in the preseason — that FAU is indeed an incredible team — never made much sense to me, if only because it was so clearly true,” wrote Gary Parrish, CBS college basketball insider, after the Arizona win. 

Unfortunately, the fact is that after the Arizona win, the things that made FAU an incredible team began to get away from them. 

In all three of their games since, FAU began halftime trailing; in the losses to Charlotte and FGCU, they went into the intermission trailing by nine plus. This is the same FAU team that a season ago made putting away the cellar-dwellers they faced a habit. 

And with the uncharacteristic shooting slump they’re in, they haven’t been able to dig out the holes they put themselves in. They shot a rough 20% from three-point range in the loss to FGCU and just 26% in the Charlotte loss. They also shot sub 50% from the field in both losses. 

“It’s no secret, when you look at the games we’ve lost, we haven’t shot well from the perimeter,” said head coach Dusty May in his weekly Monday presser. 

This is the same FAU that a season ago ranked fourteenth in the nation in three-pointers per game, beating teams that towered over them throughout the tournament with their ability to get hot and shoot the lights out.

“You look at the numbers last year and most of this year, we have a very good three-point shooting team,” said May. “But we’re just not defending and rebounding the way we need to when the shots aren’t dropping.”

Two losses this bad within eight days—as well as the fact that it’s January and they’ve yet to win an actual road game—is cause for concern. But not cause for a complete, all-out panic yet.

The fact is that even with the recent slip they’re on if the tournament started tomorrow, they’d be in. They somehow held onto a spot in Monday’s AP Poll at #24, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projected FAU on Tuesday as a sixth seed, forecasting a round of 64 matchups with the winner of the First Four. 

The concern is that being barely a week into January with four losses, two of them Quad Four losses, their margin of error turns razor thin.

Losses to Bryant, FGCU and Charlotte don’t expunge the ESPN Invitational win or the gutsy, top-five win over Arizona, or anything this team has shown over the past year and a half from my mind, nor should it in anyone else’s, but another ugly loss or two might do the job.

Even compared to their non-conference schedule, the remainder of league play is no cakewalk. 

Visits to UAB and North Texas, both 2-0 in conference play, provide ample opportunity for the Owls to come out flat again and catch up on an off-night. Not to mention the long-awaited pair of rematches with #15 Memphis, with any chance of an AAC tournament victory likely to go through Memphis a third time too. 

However, my concern lies in the games you just watched me gloss over. A close loss to Memphis wouldn’t destroy their resume. Another Quad three or Quad four loss could be the nail in the coffin. 

These losses should’ve been expected when you know you’ll get your opponent’s best shot night in and night out, said May on Monday, and it’s much better to exercise your demons in January rather than March.

“I remember early on I had said, ‘We’re probably going to have to lose a game or two early on because I felt like we thought it was going to be easier than what it was going to be,’” said May. “It’s very difficult to win coming off of the run and year we had.”

But if they don’t right the ship soon, the memories of that run might be all they have come March. 

Cameron Priester is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron.

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Cameron Priester, Editor-at-Large
Cameron Priester is an Editor-at-Large for the University Press. Having served as Sports Editor for the 2022-23 academic year, he is a multimedia journalism major and intends on pursuing a career in sports journalism. He can be found on Twitter @PriesterCameron and you can email him at [email protected].

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