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After Turning Heads Last Season, Expectation for Owls Basketball Soars

After a 'Cinderella' run that propelled Florida Atlantic hoops to the Final Four for the first time, most of the winning lineup returns to the court in November. With AP giving FAU the No. 10 slot, expectations are higher than ever.

Dylan Backer | MediaLab@FAU

Oct 30, 2023

Florida Atlantic University’s Men’s Basketball Team will look to build off their success from last year, and the Associated Press’s Top 25 Preseason Poll has the Owls in a great position to head back to the NCAA as anticipation soars.

The Owls, who begin their quest for a national title on Nov. 8 against Loyola Chicago, were ranked No. 10 in the poll, the first time in school history that they were awarded a spot in the preseason poll. Some notable schools ranked below the Owls include Gonzaga (No. 11), Arizona (No. 12) and San Diego State (No. 17), the latter of which eliminated the Owls from the tournament in the Final Four game last year. 

After making waves with their unprecedented run to the Final Four last year, the bar is set much higher for them this time around on a national level. 

Dusty May, head coach of the Owls who signed a 10-year contract extension over the summer, expects the team to maintain their success from last season while also taking advantage of the depth on their roster. 

We have some guys that are ready to play, have been ready to play, but under circumstances have had to take a back seat,” said May. “We will be a little different, but we will still be versatile and we will play a lot of guys.”

The Owls are playing the season under the motto “run it back,” as they are basically returning the exact same roster that brought them to the Final Four – a rarity in college sports - with Michael Forrest being the only departure due to graduation. 

Shayne Wright, sports director at WPBF 25 News, said that given this, FAU being ranked in the Top 25 in the country makes perfect sense. 

“Anytime you have a group of players that have another year to grow into what they have already learned, they’re going to be that much better,” Wright told MediaLab@FAU. 

Wright added that the school has a good chance to crack a spot in the top 5 of the AP Poll later on in the season if they start off strong, which would continue to place the school in the national spotlight.

The Owls are transitioning to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) this season, and their non-conference schedule includes games against no. 15 Texas A&M and no. 25 Illinois. Those games could be key in determining how the Owls could possibly climb the polls as the season progresses.

“They’ve got a very great opportunity to be even higher than [No. 10] if they can beat some of those teams that are traditionally top 5 that have successful programs,” said Wright. 

The Owls’ wild tournament run last season ended in heartbreaking fashion, as they lost on a game-winner by San Diego State’s Lamont Butler, taking away the Owls’ chance to play in the championship game for the first time in school history. Wright said that could serve as motivation to improve this season.

“I do think that it left a bad taste in their mouths, and they feel like they could have and should have won that game,” Wright said. 

Despite that, Wright also said that other schools across the nation will be looking at FAU as a team to beat.

“While they may have more of a reason to want to get back to the Final Four because they feel like they left it off short, they’re also going to be playing against competition that wants to beat them,” said Wright. 

College basketball analyst and founder of The Field of 68 media network, Rob Dauster, agrees with Wright’s sentiments, but was surprised to not see the Owls ranked above the 10th spot in the AP’s preseason poll.

“I would’ve expected based on the run that they made [last season], the hype that they got, and the fact that everybody is coming back that they might have been ranked a little bit higher,” Dauster said. “I think Florida Atlantic and what they can be, now that they have this target on their back, is one of the most interesting storylines in the sport this year.”

Within their conference, the Owls are anticipated to make some serious noise, as the AAC’s preseason poll has them ranked No. 1.

FAU also had two players make the Preseason All-Conference First Team, Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis, both of whom were instrumental in their success last year. Dauster said that another player to keep a close eye on this season is center Vladislav Goldin. 

The seven-footer from Russia averaged career-highs in points (10.2), rebounds (6.5) and blocks (1.2) for the Owls and was named as a member of Third Team All-Conference USA last season.

“All the best teams have great bigs, and you have to have a big guy to deal with that,” said Dauster. “If you look at the rest of the roster that Dusty has put together, it’s not like they are overflowing in 6-foot-10 giants.”

Last season, FAU entered the NCAA tournament as a no. 9 seed, and many viewed their run to the Final Four as one of the greatest underdog stories in tournament history. Wright said that he believes the goal of winning a national championship is more attainable now than it was entering last season, and added that the players are a much more confident group this time around.

“They feel like they’ve gotten better because they’re playing together for another year, which a lot of programs around the country can’t say,” Wright said. “They feel hungrier to re-attain that success they had a season ago.

“They also mentioned leaving their mark on the program for years to come.”

FAU’s national recognition reached new heights during and after the tournament, and Wright emphasized that the buzz around the school stretches beyond Boca Raton. 

“It’s not just a local or regional buzz anymore,” Wright said. “It’s now a national buzz where everywhere they go to play a game, the people in that area are going to know who FAU is and what they did last year.”

FAU Basketball celebrates with their head coach, Dusty May, on making it to the Final Four in March 2023. (Photo: FAU Athletics)

The wider FAU community is contributing to the buzz, with many students and alumni excited for what is to come for their school’s team this season. 

“I’m really pumped up,” said 21-year-old FAU student and basketball fan Jack Schmell. “We have chemistry, continuity, a great coaching staff – I think last year was just a preview of what this team can really do. No one wants to play them right now, so I think they’re on pace to have a tremendous season.” 

Schmell added that the widespread attention helps put the “great campus we have” on the map and is proud to be a student at FAU while they have the country on notice.

As for whether or not analysts think that the Owls will make it back to the NCAA tournament this season, Dauster and Wright expect them to compete for the AAC title. Wright added that the health of the players will be a key factor in whether or not FAU can secure another conference title. 

“If this team stays healthy like they did last season and carry over that success, I think they can win the conference,” Wright said.

Dauster said that the Owls will “certainly” return to the NCAA tournament this year, but where they are seeded is dependent on their performance in the regular season. 

“I think they have to win one of [their non-conference games] if you want to be able to get a seed that is good enough to where you will be favored to make a run,” said Dauster. 

While the hype around the Owls is sky high before the start of the season, they will still have to demonstrate positive results on the basketball court as they will look to take over the college basketball world this year.

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