Editor-to-editor: SDSU vs. FAU Final Four Preview

University Press sports editor, Cameron Priester, hopped on a call with Daily Aztec sports editors to discuss Saturday’s massive matchup and give an inside look at the Florida Atlantic University basketball team


Editor-to-editor graphic. University Press Sports x Daily Aztec Sports. (left photo of Alijah Martin taken by Jaden Winston, University Press photographer) (right photo of Lamont Butler taken by Charlie Stelzmiller, Daily Aztec photographer)

by Morgan Prickett and Justin Cox

San Diego State University in the Final Four. Who does not like the sound of that?

Well, probably Alabama.

Who should not like the sound of that?

Probably Florida Atlantic University.

The five-seed Aztecs are steaming heading into Saturday’s Final Four matchup against the nine-seed FAU, being fueled by the momentum they’ve built on this historic NCAA Tournament run. They etched past Charleston in the first round, dominated Furman in the second, earned the historic win against No. 1 Alabama and then narrowly won their rematch of last year’s game against Creighton.

Now the Aztecs are tasked with overcoming a very tough roadblock preventing them from reaching their National Championship dreams. The FAU Owls, sitting with the best record in college basketball, are the Aztecs’ last stop before a National Championship bid.

“They’ve got the best record in the country and they have to be respected for that,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “That doesn’t just happen, they have to go out and beat a lot of good teams to make that happen. And now they’ve shown in March that that record wasn’t against just any competition, it’s against good competition and they continue to get better as the tournament goes on. And that’s what we’re doing.”

The Daily Aztec Sports Editors Justin Cox and Morgan Prickett caught up with University Press sports editor, Cameron Priester, to preview the highly anticipated Final Four matchup between the Aztecs and Owls:

It’s both our school’s first time in the final four. How has the reception been at FAU and what has this meant for your school?

Priester: “The support they’ve been receiving has been so insane to see. I’ve never seen fans, students, alumni, flock together and support a team at FAU like this in my entire time here. It seems like nobody on campus and around town wants to talk about anything but FAU Basketball. There’s been watch parties all over campus and at spots around town, something like 200 students gathered at the arena to welcome them home from New York, they’re all over news and social media. It’s just crazy to see compared to what the arena looked like, and how much coverage they got last season. I can’t exactly speak for before I got there, but this feels like the biggest thing to happen to FAU in the school’s history.” 

What are FAU’s strengths and weaknesses? 

Priester: “Their strength undoubtedly lies in their depth. They play a nine-man rotation, have six guards that are good for 10-15 points any given night, and have probably four different guys that can take over the game at any given point. Against Memphis it was G Nicholas Boyd that stepped up late. Against Fairleigh Dickinson they leaned on a historic performance by G Johnell Davis. Against Kansas State, it was G Alijah Martin that led the scoring charge. Any of these guys can take over a game, and head coach Dusty May is comfortable with any of these guys taking the shot in clutch situations. C Vladislav Goldin has also been the lightning rod for FAU at times. Trying to figure out how to stop all these guys, sometimes when they’re all on the floor at once, is no easy task.”

“They don’t really have many identifiable weaknesses but one that comes to mind is their shooting can be spotty at times. Against Memphis and Tennessee they didn’t shoot very well in the first half, against Fairleigh Dickinson they shot terribly in the first half, and they were forced to rely on huge scoring runs in the second half in all those games. Relying on second half runs isn’t the safest way to play. Something else you could call a weakness is their size. They play a small-ball lineup, usually with four guards on the floor at once, which can leave them at a disadvantage against the bigger, longer, more physical teams. Luckily for them, they’ve been the same size all year, and have been able to come up with 35 wins being the undersized team in a majority of their matchups. However, they’ve proved in almost every game this tournament that even when these weaknesses become noticeable, they can still win games.”

In the three losses FAU had this year, what are some of the opposing teams’ traits that really caused them some problems?

Priester: “I don’t know if I can explain the early season loss to Ole Miss, I don’t know if anyone can because Ole Miss was a bottom feeder in the SEC all year long. But I think in that loss and the loss to UAB, it was the other team taking advantage of a bad shooting night. They shot way below their season average from the field and three-point range in the first half both of those losses, fell behind at the half and weren’t able to recover. I think that’s where the Aztecs’ best shot lies: catching them on a night when the shots aren’t falling, and relying on their stonewall defense to keep FAU from making one of their trademark second half runs.”

How has FAU matched up against the more physical teams this season? 

Priester: “FAU’s matchup with Tennessee in the Sweet 16 is the perfect example. Tennessee is like a carbon copy of San Diego. They both play tough, physical defense, some of the best in the nation, and win games by forcing teams to play at their slow place, according to KenPom both play at some of the slowest paces in the country. Early on they were letting Tennessee play exactly how Tennessee wanted to play. Very slow pace, forcing very bad looks for FAU, and at times felt like they were getting beat up on. They were getting dragged into the mud, as many basketball fans like to call it. It wasn’t until the second half, when they were able to speed up the game to FAU’s preferred pace by scoring early on the shot clock and in transition, that things started to swing FAU’s way. If San Diego can turn the game into a slow-paced, slugfest, like Tennessee did in the first half, that’s where they’ll give FAU the most problems.”

What are your initial predictions and feelings of the game?

Priester: “I think it will come down to who can win the battle between FAU’s offense and San Diego’s defense. Who can play their style of basketball? Can San Diego’s stalwart defense turn the game into a fist fight, or will FAU’s fast-paced offense turn the game into a track meet? If I had to call it right now, FAU wins another last second thriller, but this is really anybody’s game. No matter who comes away with the win, I have no doubt it will come to the final minutes and probably a single possession. They are both battle-tested teams that have proved they can win down the stretch. It’s really anyone’s game.”

Just like three of the Aztecs four games so far this tournament, this one is most likely going down to the wire. These two teams, who look evenly matched on paper, are going to duel it out for 40 minutes for a chance to continue making history for their programs. 

The offensive firepower of FAU against the sturdy and reliable defense against SDSU. 

The game will take place on Saturday, April 1 at 7:00 p.m. PT. at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.