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The underdog Florida Atlantic Owls look to continue their march through the NCAA tournament and into the Final Four when they take on the ever-clutch Kansas State Wildcats in the Elite Eight.
Kansas State is searching for its first national championship in a team sport in school history, while FAU, which only made March Madness one time before, is setting a new record for its deepest run with every win.
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FAU entered the tournament as a sleeper team that most people overlooked but that had lots of potential. It had just gone 31-3 in the regular season, tied for one of the best records in America, yet was hidden because of its weak schedule.
Regardless of who the Owls have faced, they have played at a superior level nearly every time they have taken the court this season. They are also inarguably the deepest team remaining in the tournament—whereas most teams are shrinking their rotations to 6-8 players, FAU is sticking to its model of at least a nine-man rotation.
FAU loves to get the ball and run. They are strong both on the boards and in transition and often use the frantic pace of play to find open shooters, who nail a solid percentage of their shots. They don’t shoot free throws particularly well which could come to haunt them in close games, but they have a decent assist-to-turnover ratio and the 18th most effective defense.
Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin, and Vladislav Goldin average double-digit scoring for the Owls. They all also average over five boards per game, led by the 7-foot-1 Goldin.
Davis already made history in the tournament as the first player to record a 25/10/5/5 game when he put up 29 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and five steals in a 78-70 win over No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson; that was no ordinary 16 seed either since FDU had just knocked off No. 1 Purdue two days prior.
No qualified player shoots 40% from three, but four of the top five guards in the rotation shoot in the high 30s, and the team averages 37.2% from beyond the arc. FAU’s diversity makes it a tough matchup since opponents cannot sell out on any player without leaving an equally-capable scorer open.
FAU started its NCAA Tournament with a 66-65 win over No. 8 Memphis thanks to a Nicholas Boys go-ahead layup with two seconds left. It then knocked off FDU 78-70 and used a second-half comeback to shock the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers in the Sweet 16.
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K-State is eagerly stepping closer and closer to its first team title in program history. What is remarkable about its run to the Elite Eight is that its coach, Jerome Tang, is a first-time head coach and in his first year with the Wildcats, and nine of 11 players that received minutes this year are freshmen or transfers. The two that didn’t fit either category did not get on the court until this season either.
The Wildcats are also a feel-good story. Whether it be leading scorer Keyontae Johnson returning from a scary situation at the University of Florida where he collapsed on the court due to an undetected heart condition or 5-foot-8 guard Markquis Nowell playing larger than life as the star of the tournament thus far, there’s plenty to get behind.
On the court, Kansas State is a matchup problem—not because they have any overwhelming strengths, but because they can match up against anybody. They are comfortable playing in all types of scenarios and have the personnel to respond to the ebbs and flows of the game.
Johnson leads the Wildcats with 17.7 points per night. Nowell is close behind at 17.2 to go with 8.1 assists, which is the second-most per game in Division-I.
Coach Tang used eight players in the team’s most recent outing and was rewarded with 26 extra points, 15 from sharpshooter Ismael Massoud and 11 from long-armed forward David N’Guessan. N’Guessan has been key in recent games, whether it be playing great defense on Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe or making clutch plays on both ends in the Sweet 16.
Nowell has been one of the best players and irrevocably the most electrifying in the tournament thus far. He has +1500 odds of winning Most Outstanding Player and has a chance to bolster his case in Madison Square Garden, just about five miles from his hometown of Harlem, New York.
Kansas State opened its March Madness run with a 77-65 win over No. 14 Montana State. It then came up with clutch play after clutch play to sneak by the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats 75-69, and then played one of the games of the tournament contenders against No. 10 Michigan State in the Sweet 16, walking away with a 98-93 overtime victory.
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FAU has executed when it’s needed to and has been very good in the second half of games. It is also more athletic than most people believe it to be and has an identity that it sticks to. However, it goes through scoring slumps and is prone to falling behind.
Kansas State has been in a couple of thrillers but has demonstrated more resiliency than any team in the competition. It also has impact players that are getting better all over the court and plays with true swagger, which is important in big games. The Wildcats feel like a team of destiny and should be able to book their ticket into the Final Four for the first time since 1964.
No. 3 Kansas State ATS Record: 23-10
No. 9 FAU ATS Record: 21-11
*odds from FanDuel sportsbook*
No. 3 Kansas State
Over 144.5 (-105)
No. 9 FAU
Under 144.5 (-115)
No. 3 Kansas State vs No. 9 FAU pick and prediction: No. 3 Kansas State ML
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Game Time & Date: Saturday, March 25 at 6:09 p.m. ET
TV Network: TBS
Streaming: YouTube TV, Fubo, Hulu, etc.
Conference USA: 3-0
Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself on delivering breaking news and insightful analyses of the industry. Grant graduated from Virginia Tech in 2021 and is feverishly pursuing his ambitions in the sports betting field.
In his free time, Grant can be found passionately watching sports, doing a workout, or searching for adventure with his friends.More info on Grant Mitchell
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