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March Madness is here as is the chance for dark horse teams to come into the 2023 NCAA Tournament and make a name for themselves. Two teams from non-traditional conferences are among the biggest dark horses that not a lot of people are paying attention to the #8 Memphis Tigers and the #9 Florida Atlantic Owls. They are set to meet in the First Round of the East Bracket.
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There were heavy expectations for head coach Penny Hardaway as he entered his fifth year with the Memphis Tigers. Last season, the Tigers entered the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 as they made it as far as the Second Round. This season, Hardaway needed to find a way to challenge his team to be competitors to conference foes like Houston, who have national titles expectations.
Memphis started the season on a rough note with losses to Saint Louis and Seton Hall in two of their first four games. The Tigers did pick themselves up by winning six straight including an 82-73 win over #11 Auburn on Dec. 13.
There were great results in conference play during the regular season, but they lost to Tulane and Houston twice each. Memphis entered the 2023 AAC Tournament Championship as the #2 seed. They defeated the #7 UCF Golden Knights 81-76 in the quarterfinals. The Tigers were able to get revenge on the #3 Tulane Green Wave with a dominating score of 94-54. In the championship round, the Tigers were able to shock the #1 Houston Cougars 75-65 for their first conference tournament title since 2013.
Many attributes make this Tigers team successful, but the biggest reason has to be the stellar play of senior guard Kendric Davis. Through 32 games played, Davis averages 21.8 points per game shooting a field goal percentage of 41.4% and a three-point shooting percentage of 34.1%. He also averages 3.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and two steals per game.
Another player that is set to make a big difference for the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament is senior forward Deandre Williams. In 34 games this season, Williams averages 17.8 points, eight rebounds, 1.5 steals, and one block per game. Together, Davis and Williams make one of the best duos in college basketball.
The Florida Atlantic Owls (31-3; 18-2 in C-USA play) is a team that has flown under the radar in the landscape of college basketball because of their conference affiliation. The Owls only have three losses as they have quietly built one of the best overall records in college basketball.
The Owls lost to the Ole Miss Rebels 80-67 on the road on Nov. 11. They were able to bounce back one game later by shocking the Florida Gators 76-74 in Gainesville on Nov. 14.
As the season progressed, the Owls steadily won games against smaller conference opponents. Florida Atlantic won 20 consecutive games until they lost to UAB on the road 86-77 on Feb. 2.
The Owls entered the 2023 C-USA Tournament as the #1 seed as they soundly defeated the #8 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 75-51 in the quarterfinals. They went on to defeat the #4 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders in the semifinals 68-65. Finally, the Owls went on to defeat the #3 UAB Blazers 78-56 in the championship round.
The Owls have a deep roster of playmakers that helped create the 36th-best scoring offense in the nation by averaging 78.8 points per game Sophomore guard Johnell Davis leads the Owls in points per game with 13.5 shooting a field goal percentage of 50% and a three-point shooting percentage of 39.3%. Sophomore guard Alijah Martin is the other offensive leader for the Owls as he averages 13.2 points per game shooting a field goal percentage of 44.1%.
The Owls are a team that likes to spread the ball throughout the court and find mismatches against the opposing defense. Five players for Florida Atlantic averaged 8.9 points or more per game.
Odds, Previews, Picks, Best Bets for NCAA Tournament 1st Round #8 Memphis and #9 Florida Atlantic
The First Round matchup between #8 Memphis vs #9 Florida Atlantic will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams on the court. This is a game that could potentially hold major implications for the entire NCAA Tournament. The winner will go on to potentially face the #1 Purdue Boilermakers in the Second Round.
Memphis is a team that can match the physicality of any team in the nation. A prime example was the Tigers’ 75-65 win over Houston in the AAC Championship game when they held the Cougars to shooting a field-goal percentage of 31.3% (20-of-64) and three-point shooting of 6-of-25 (24%).
Florida Atlantic is a team that has a similar offense to Houston, who beat the Tigers twice in the regular season. Once they have developed a solid scoring rhythm, it is difficult for opponents to slow them down. It is a big reason why the Owls average 78.8 points per game.
While the Owls have an impressive defense that allows only 65 points per game, they have not met an aggressive and well-balanced offense such as the Tigers. Led by Sporting News Second-Team All-American Kendric Davis and a solid big in Deandre Williams, the Tigers have turned into a scoring machine that may be too much for the Owls’ solid defense to overcome.
Location: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH
Game Time & Date: 8:20 E.T. on Thursday, Mar. 17
TV Network: TNT
Streaming: YouTube TV, Hulu, Sling, etc.
Michael is an avid sports fan and a veteran bettor from Milwaukee. He learned the trade from his grandfather in Las Vegas as a kid and has turned that into a successful career. He cheers for all Wisconsin pro teams along with his Alma Mater Arizona State. He specializes in baseball betting, but has experience in football, basketball, and hockey as well. When he isn’t pouring over stats, he’s spending time with his two young children.More info on Michael Savio
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