It’s The 2023 NCAA FINAL FOUR! No. 9 FAU vs. No. 5 SDSU: Game Preview & Prediction

It’s The 2023 NCAA Final Four! No. 9 FAU vs. No. 5 SDSU: Game Preview & Prediction

Cinderella-slaying San Diego State Aztecs take on Giant-killing Florida Atlantic University Owls in a must-see Final Four Showdown!

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“March is for players, and we got really good players.” – Brian Dutcher

WHO:  Florida Atlantic University Owls (35-3, 18-2 CUSA) vs. San Diego State University Aztecs (31-6, 15-3 MW)

WHEN: Saturday, April 1– 3:09 p.m. PST | 5:09 p.m. CST

WHERE: NRG Stadium- Houston, TX (Capacity 71,000)


STREAM: Fubo — Get a free trial

RADIO: San Diego Sports 760 / SiriusXM App ch. 968

SERIES RECORD:  SDSU and FAU meet for the 3rd time in the Final Four. The Aztecs lead the series 2-0)

LAST MEETING:  December 28th, 2002, the Aztecs won 91-75 at Viejas  Arena. This is their first match in the Brian Dutcher era.

WEBSITES:, the official San Diego State athletics website; FAUSports, the official Florida Atlantic University athletics website.



Houston, TX – Aztec Nation: It just doesn’t get bigger than this…  And speaking of big: NRG Stadium will host 71,000 fans on Saturday night.  It is, without question, the BIGGEST sporting event in Aztecs sports history.

The No. 9 Owls (35-3) take on the No. 5 Aztecs (31-6) in the Final Four. Tip-off at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas is scheduled for 6:09 p.m. EST (CBS) on Saturday, April 1st.

No. 5 San Diego State overcame formidable No. 6 Creighton 57-56, in what Charles Barkley suggested was a controversial end. Yet, despite every concession coach Greg McDermott demanded (and received) in the last minute alone- Creighton still lost. SDSU was pushed to its limit, and the Aztecs found the path to victory, and advanced to the Final Four.

No. 9 Florida Atlantic managed to best No. 3 Kansas State 79-76 in a hard-fought contest dominated by a solid Vladislav Goldin performance that saw the Owls out-rebound K-State 44-22 to advance to the Final Four as well.

San Diego State and FAU have faced off twice previously, (’00, ’02), yet they have not competed in the Brian Dutcher / Dusty May era. It will be exciting to see how the two teams fare against one other. The Owls have been serious giant killers, while the Aztecs have helped two Cinderella’s find midnight.

While the Aztecs are not yet considered one of basketball’s Giants, the Owls, without question, do check the Cinderella box.

Who moves on to the National Championship? Let’s take a closer look.

Why The Owls Will Win

The Owls are having one of the most incredible NCAA Tournament runs in the history of the event. FAU got a break facing No.16 Fairleigh Dickinson instead of Purdue- but then took down a formidable Tennessee squad followed by rock-solid Kansas State, to reach their first-ever Final Four appearance. Unlike Tennessee and K-State, the Aztecs are underdogs, too.

FAU experienced 22 turnovers in its win over KSU. They made up for the deficit through a powerful rebounding exhibit. The Owls collected 44 boards (14 offensive) literally doubling the Wildcats’ 22. They shot 48.1 percent from the field, including 9 of 23 (39.1%) from beyond the arc. They also went 18/22 at the free throw line.

Sophomore guard Johnell David is FAU’s scoring leader. He averages 13.9 points on 49.3 percent shooting and 5.5 boards. Sophomore guard Alijah Martin averages 13.1 points and 5.2 boards. Sophomore center Vlad Goldin (7’1″) averages 10.3 points and 6.6 boards, while freshman guard Nicholas Boyd makes 8.9 points and 4.3 boards, and senior guard Michael Forrest registers an average 8.4 points per game.

Florida Atlantic averages 79.3 points per game (26th) and shoots 47.2 percent from the field (41st), including 37.8 percent from three (22nd). The Owls make 71.2 percent of their free throws and average 35.2 rebounds (30th) with a +5.4 rebounding margin.

FAU is 24th in schedule-adjusted offensive efficiency, 25th in effective field goal percentage (54.3%), and 156th in adjusted tempo.

The Owls give up 65.7 points per game on defense (60th), and their opponents shoot 41.1 percent (40th), including 33.3 percent from three-point distance (145th). Florida Atlantic is 30th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

All in all, the Owls have good numbers that enable them to fare well in normal situations, however . . .

Why The Aztecs Will Win

When the Aztecs are playing their best basketball they can beat any team in the country. Right now, the Aztecs are firing on all cylinders.

Like the Owls, SDSU has reached its first Final Four after taking down several teams that were expected to win.  They were teams the Aztecs weren’t supposed to upset, but the Aztecs are tough, and extremely physical.  They relentlessly defend for all 40 minutes with low fouling, and get the job done offensively even when it’s not pretty. If you make a mistake or lower your defenses- they’ll make you pay dearly.

San Diego State beat Creighton with another defensive clinic, holding the Blue Jays to 23 points in the second half. As it did versus top-seed Alabama in the Sweet 16 who shot a paltry 3-for-27 (11.1%)  SDSU’s three-point defense held the Blue Jays to 2-for-17 shooting (11.8%) from the arc. It might not have been the prettiest win, but the Aztecs’ played fiercely.

If FAU is unable to score three’s and is held to a percentage comparable to Alabama and Creighton, they will have to penetrate the paint and feed 7’1″ Vlad Goldin, and when they do, Aguek Arop,  Jayden LeDee and Nathan Mensah will be there, waiting.

FAU, will find themselves very frustrated playing against SDSU’s intense, menacing defense.

What Will Happen

The Aztecs are not giants.  They’re underdogs.  They have faced Cinderella’s and Giants alike, and they have competed effectively against both.

They stay fresh, and they don’t quit.  And if their top player doesn’t pull it together for whatever reason, any of six others can become their top player for the night.  It’s like whack-a-mole, when playing against the Aztecs- the depth is just remarkable.

San Diego State’s defense, which caused a world of problems for the Crimson Tide and Blue Jays will grind opponents down for the entire shot clock and play and waste little time offensively.  And unlike K-State (with all due respect) there is NO WAY the Aztecs will be out-rebounded by a factor of 2:1 against the Owls. Florida Atlantic will make this a very exciting game, but like Creighton, they will get exhausted. In the end they’ll fall just short.

In a close match, San Diego State will register the win and move on to the NCAA Tournament Championship.

Final Score: SDSU 71, FAU 67

Next Up

The winner of No. 9 FAU and No. 5 San Diego State will square off in the NCAA National Championship with the winner of the No.5 Miami Hurricanes vs. No.4 Connecticut Huskies match on Monday, April 3rd in Houston, Texas at a time to be determined.

Story originally appeared on Mountain West Wire