The third-ever meeting between Florida Atlantic and San Diego State could hardly have higher stakes. Both programs are in the Final Four for the first time and the winner advances to the national championship game Monday.
The No. 9 Owls (35–3) and No. 5 Aztecs (31–6) have both traveled difficult paths to arrive at this point. FAU defeated No. 8 Memphis in the Round of 64, 66-65, and kept dancing with a 78-70 victory over No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in the Round of 32. In the second weekend of the tournament, coach Dusty May’s team shocked No. 4 Tennessee, 62-55, in the Sweet 16 and then got past No. 3 Kansas State, 79-76, in the Elite Eight.
As for San Diego State’s run, which was fueled by its ferocious defense, a 63-57 win over No. 12 Charleston kicked things off. Then came a 75-52 triumph over No. 13 Furman in the next round to set up a meeting with the top overall seed, Alabama. The Aztecs upended the Crimson Tide, 71-64, and eked out a 57-56 victory over No. 6 Creighton.
And now, here they are, two unlikely representatives in Houston that emerged from the East and South regions, respectively. San Diego State is a slight favorite at SI Sportsbook, but Florida Atlantic has already pulled off three upsets in the tournament. What’s one more?
Florida Atlantic vs. San Diego State Best Bet: Under 131.5 (-118)
The Owls are among the top 30 teams nationally in both adjusted offense (24) and defense (30). They’ve won shootouts, like their game against the Wildcats, and grind-it-out games, such as their win versus the Volunteers. FAU is a strong three-point shooting team that gets after it on the glass, out-rebounding its opponents by an average of six boards per game, and it doubled up Kansas State in that department, 44-22. The team also shoots better than 37% from deep and makes 9.6 three-pointers per game.
The engine of the team so far in March has been Johnell Davis, who’s averaging 17.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in the tournament. He’s led the team in scoring and assists twice and rebounds once so far. Alijah Martin, the team’s second-leading scorer behind Davis on the year, scored 17 in the Elite Eight and center Vladislav Goldin also had his best game of the tournament last time out as he racked up 14 points and 13 rebounds. Opponents also have to account for the Owls’ second unit, as they have the second-highest scoring bench in the country (33.2 points per game).
The Aztecs are all about their defense, which comes in at No. 4 in the nation. Their 74th-ranked offense is the lowest remaining unit in the tourney, though it had enough juice to get past Alabama and Creighton. A different player has led the team in scoring in each game so far: Matt Bradley with 17, then Micah Parrish’s 16 off the bench. Darrion Trammel’s 21 got the job done against the Tide and Lamont Butler’s 18 points led the team against the Blue Jays.
SDSU isn’t a team that knocks down all that many three-pointers, but its defense does well to limit outside opportunities in turn. Opponents shoot just 27.9% from outside against this unit on the year, the third-lowest percentage in DI. And though San Diego State doesn’t have as strong an advantage on the glass as FAU, it has out-rebounded opponents by 4.5 boards on average this season.
So, which way should you lean in this matchup? I’m inclined to take the Owls with the points as added insurance, but the best play may well be the under.
When Florida Atlantic played Tennessee, a team with a similar defensive pedigree, the under of 129 cashed easily. The under also hit in the Memphis game, which had a much higher total but still would have gone under this mark.
Then there’s the Aztecs, who have seen the under hit in their last 12 games. Their 266th-ranked tempo slows the game down and their suffocating defense contributes to their season-long trend of low-scoring games. The under is 22–14 on the year for SDSU.
NCAA Tournament Betting Record
First Four: 3–1
Round of 64: 3–3
Sweet 16: 2–2
Elite Eight: 2–0
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