Though the seeds and history say it’s amazing they’re here, both Florida Atlantic and San Diego State have proven they belong.
Both the Owls and Aztecs are making their Final Four debut in a season that included other firsts. Playing in a stadium that seats fewer than 3,000, FAU has never been ranked before and has been to the NCAA tournament just once: a No. 15 seed in 2002. But they’re 35-3 in 2022- 2. 3.
But Dusty May, in his fifth season, posted a winning record every year before the Owls reached historic heights. FAU is 35-3 and ranked 19th in the AP Poll in early February. The Owls swept both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles before earning the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. From there, close matches began (winning margins of 1, 8, 7 and 3). But everything wins.
Offensively, the Owls are in the top 40 in points per game (78) and top 15 in 3-pointers (9.6 per game). Johnell Davis leads with 13.9 points per game while adding 5.5 boards. Vladislav Goldin contributed 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds with a shooting rate of 62.7 percent. On defense, FAU is in the top 20 in FG percentage, as opponents are shooting just 40.2 percent.
On the other hand, San Diego State comes in 31-6 after sweeping the regular season and the Mountain West conference tournament.
The Aztecs have more of a history of past success than FAU did in March, as San Diego State reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2014 and went 30-2 in the 2019-20 season halted by COVID.
Brian Dutcher is in his fifth season as coach. Steve Fisher’s veteran assistant has the Aztecs going and maintaining his reputation as a superior defensive program. San Diego State is limiting foes to just 40 percent from the field, ranking in the top 40 nationally, and a staggering 27.9 percent on 3-pointers. That matches Houston as the second best mark in the country, behind Tennessee’s 26.5.
Matt Bradley’s 12.5 points per game paces the Aztecs, with no one else averaging double figures. But others have stepped up, from Darrion Trammell’s 21 points against No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet 16 to Lamont Butler’s 18 points on 11 shots in an Elite Eight win against No. 6 Creighton.
“It’s very similar to competing against ourselves in practice,” FAU coach May said on Friday morning. “They’ve had four NCAA tournament games. They’ve had four leading scorers. So it’s a lot like looking in the mirror and seeing yourself. We never know who our leading scorer is going to be. But when you’re a leading scorer, you generate a lot of attention and you help those other guys succeed.
“Once again, it’s a testament to those guys being selfless, their sacrifice for the good of the team. So we’re prepared because we see it every day. It’s like looking in the mirror.”