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NY Post
New York Post
1 Apr 2023


NextImg:March Madness 2023 Final Four: San Diego State vs. Florida Atlantic odds, prediction

One of the most unlikely matchups in March Madness history will take place on Saturday, when No. 5 seed San Diego State faces No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic in the Final Four for a berth in Monday’s championship game.

The Aztecs have been the underdogs in each of their last two matchups, but they’re favored in this one over the Owls, who are perhaps the biggest underdog story in an NCAA Tournament full of them.

Here’s how we’re betting Saturday’s contest, which tips off at 6:09 p.m. ET on CBS.

I’ve been a huge fan of Florida Atlantic since before the tournament, when I highlighted Dusty May’s group as one of the most dangerous mid-majors, and I bet on this team to win it all at 80-1 odds earlier in this tournament.

That said, this feels like the final stop for this year’s Cinderella team.

That’s not an indictment on FAU as much as an endorsement of San Diego State, which has asserted its will defensively through the first four rounds of this tournament. The Aztecs entered the tourney with an elite defense predicated on constant pressure and a relentless pursuit to harass teams along the 3-point line.

Arthur Kaluma #24 of the Creighton Bluejays shoots a three point basket against Aguek Arop #33 of the San Diego State Aztecs

Arthur Kaluma #24 of the Creighton Bluejays shoots a three point basket against Aguek Arop #33 of the San Diego State Aztecs
Getty Images

Sure enough, we’ve seen that play out to perfection thus far. In the first two rounds, Charleston (20.8%) and Furman (23.1%) shot a combined 22% on 50 attempts from deep, and both teams posted their worst offensive efficiency of the entire season.

Then Alabama, which boasted one of the nation’s best offenses all year long, fell right into SDSU’s trap – the Crimson Tide went 3-of-27 from deep (11.1%), with superstar Brandon Miller making just one of his 10 long-range attempts.

Two days later, Creighton went 2-for-17 from three to cripple its chances of a Final Four berth.

Can Florida Atlantic break the spell?

Nicholas Boyd, Alijah Martin and Michael Forrest of the Florida Atlantic Owls

Nicholas Boyd, Alijah Martin and Michael Forrest of the Florida Atlantic Owls
Getty Images

The Owls are shooting 36.5% from deep on the season, which ranks 44th nationally, though they’ve hit just 31.2% of their 3-point attempts in this tournament.

That hasn’t deterred this group from firing away – FAU has attempted 45.4% of its shots from long range in the tourney, the eighth-highest mark in the field and slightly higher than this team’s season average (44%).

This season, San Diego State is a perfect 7-0 against teams with a 3-point rate of 44% or higher, winning those games by an average of 10.6 points.

When you consider the 3-point shooting woes of all teams in this tournament – which many suspect is an issue with overinflated basketballs – and the traditional struggles for teams shooting in cavernous NRG Stadium, those concerns won’t go away on Saturday.

Then consider the issues presented by the Aztecs’ size down low, which gives them an advantage on the glass and should make life difficult for FAU’s offense in the paint.

If San Diego State can control the boards on Saturday, it’ll control the pace of the game – another bad sign for the Owls, who succeed in part by wearing teams down with their aggressive style and deep rotation.

The Aztecs’ issues offensively are a clear weakness ahead of this weekend, and leading scorer Matt Bradley (12.5 PPG) will certainly be called upon to play better than he has to this point.

Still, this is a stylistic mismatch for FAU against a team that’s coaxed opponents into a predictable 3-point trap all tournament. I don’t see that changing on Saturday.