The Florida Atlantic Owls entered this NCAA Tournament with a 31-3 record, and they were a No. 9 seed. Think about that while you contemplate the team’s improbable but not-fluky journey to the Final Four.
This team is the real deal. It is well-coached by Dusty May. It has legitimately good guards who can score and who take good shots. This team hasn’t gotten lucky in terms of 35-foot prayers going in at the buzzer or anything like that. The Owls get good looks.
FAU rebounds well. The Owls beat Kansas State in large part because they got a ton of offensive rebounds, including multiple offensive boards on missed free throws. That’s not easy to do. Florida Atlantic won its first-ever Elite Eight game with superior effort and toughness.
FAU also has quality big men with size, length, rebounding quality, and shot-blocking ability.
This is a complete team. It went 31-3 … and was a No. 9 seed.
If FAU had lost twice more, and once in the Conference USA Tournament (particularly before the final against UAB), the Owls’ NCAA Tournament status would have been in real doubt heading into Selection Sunday.
Maybe FAU would have gone to the First Four in Dayton, but it would have been a real question. Losing a late-season game to Rice or another middle-tier Conference USA opponent would have dragged down the profile from a No. 9 seed to a No. 10 or 11 seed. Then, another loss in the Conference USA Tournament (to another C-USA opponent) might have soured the selection committee on Florida Atlantic.
Five losses instead of three might have pushed this really good team out of the field.
That should be an indication that we need to reform how teams are evaluated, and how seasons are structured, in college basketball. We’re going to propose some ideas in separate articles.