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FAU Owls open season at Loyola Chicago with all 5 starters back from Final Four team

Coming off the greatest men's basketball season in school history, Florida Atlantic opens its 2023-24 campaign Wednesday night at Loyola Chicago.The Owls are ranked 9th in the preseason USA Today poll and 10th in the Associated Press poll. They were 35-4 overall with a 14-2 record in non-conference games last season while advancing to their first Final Four. The Owls have 14 of 15 players back from that team; they were one of five Division 1 teams to not have a single player enter the transfer portal. In addition, head coach Dusty May, who signed a 10-year contract extension in April, and his staff also have returned.The Ramblers went 10-21 overall with a 6-6 record against non-conference opponents in the 2022-23 season. But they are on the Owls' schedule for a reason - they are one of several opponents who were past NCAA tournament surprises. Others are Florida Gulf Coast and Butler.

More: What channel is FAU basketball on today? Time, TV schedule for opener vs. Loyola Chicago

While FAU has just about everyone back, the Owls have left Conference USA and moved to the American Athletic Conference. The early season non-conference schedule will be challenging with trips to Las Vegas to face Arizona, the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., to face St. Bonaventure and back to Madison Square Garden, where the Owls won their regional last spring, to face Illinois.

“We did something that few others have done,” FAU guard Alijah Martin said. “We’re a mid-major, or whatever you want to call it, and we went to the Final Four. And now this is the year that we can make FAU a powerhouse, a basketball powerhouse. Nobody has seen this in Boca Raton. But this program is good, and we’re still building.”

Apr 1, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Florida Atlantic Owls guard Alijah Martin (15) shoots the ball as San Diego State Aztecs forward Keshad Johnson (0) defends during the second half in the semifinals of the Final Four of the 2023 NCAA Tournament at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Florida Atlantic Owls guard Alijah Martin (15) shoots the ball as San Diego State Aztecs forward Keshad Johnson (0) defends during the second half in the semifinals of the Final Four of the 2023 NCAA Tournament at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Owls have starting five back, including Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin

Martin, who averaged 13.4 points per game, and Johnell Davis, who led the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and steals (56), tested the NBA waters before deciding to return to school. Junior center Vladislav Goldin (10.2 ppg, team-high 47 blocks), Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee also return from last year's starting lineup. Boyd led the team in assists (92) and Greenlee made a team-high 40.4 percent of his three-pointers. Among the players coming off the bench is junior forward Giancarlo Rosado, a former Palm Beach Lakes standout.

May, in his sixth season at the university, realizes his team will be among the hunted and will not sneak up on anyone. Toward that goal, he spent time with the Miami Heat brain trust when they held training camp at FAU to explore how they have handled success through the years.“Last year, we felt like we were underrated, undervalued, and so we played with a chip on our shoulder to earn that respect,” May said. “Now, the issue is going to be living up to the expectations and standards that we set last season. And our goal is to do it again.”

Wednesday's gameFAU at Loyola Chicago7 p.m., Barstool TV

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Florida Atlantic opens 2023-24 college basketball season at Loyola Chicago