BOCA RATON — For the Florida Atlantic Owls, March Madness is finally here.
After winning five of their final 11 games following a midseason lineup change, FAU will be making its second consecutive appearance in the Conference USA tournament. Last season was FAU’s first playoff appearance in general since the 2010-11 season, when Mike Jarvis led them to the best record in the Sun Belt Conference.
Though the Owls officially clinched a playoff berth on Feb. 25 when North Texas lost to Southern Miss, this past week was spent trying to move up in seeding and take advantage of tiebreakers over the Golden Eagles. Blowout losses to UAB and Middle Tennessee, however, prevented FAU from jumping ahead in the standings.
The official bracket, announced on Saturday night, shows the Owls earning a No. 11 seed and will take on sixth-seeded Marshall at 9 p.m.
At the start of Conference USA play, the Thundering Herd came into Boca Raton and won by an 89-72 final score. Ryan Taylor led Marshall with 32 points and 13 rebounds in the win.
“Taylor has been a nightmare match-up,” coach Michael Curry said at the time. “A couple years ago, he was starting at the three and was a four man last year, All-Conference caliber player. We thought Will [Pfister] was a pretty good match-up for Ryan.”
Now, FAU will have to deal with Taylor and the Thundering Herd in a win-or-go-home game. Whoever wins on Wednesday night will take on third-seeded Old Dominion on Thursday.
- Adonis Filer will need to smother the opposing offense with the defensive prowess that earned him a nomination on the All Conference-USA Defensive Team ballot. Curry has praised Filer’s defense all season long and made it clear that the senior guard can cover an enemy big man if absolutely necessary, so look for the sixth man to get chances against Ryan Taylor.
- Though William Pfister fouled out only twice after moving into the starting lineup – a major improvement from earlier in the season, where Pfister fouled out in four straight games – the French big man will need to avoid foul trouble. In the January showdown against Marshall, Pfister embarrassingly fouled out in six minutes against the Thundering Herd.
- Basketball is a game of runs, but FAU has lost winnable games this year by allowing the opponent to start and close the game hot. For 30 minutes, the Owls play competitive and close, but the other 10 minutes – the first and final five minutes of each game – have been what does them in.
- For the majority of the season, FAU lacked a true closer, someone that could take the game over late in the second half and put the finishing touches on a victory – or, potentially, lead the comeback when the chips are down. Over the final weeks, however, Gerdarius Troutman made strides in becoming that closer and it’d do the Owls a great deal of good if their sniper could embrace that role this week.
- Mistakes are going to happen and not every call by the officials is going to go their way, but the Owls need to fight on and not let their play fall apart when something they don’t like happens. Curry has done a great job of recruiting and acquiring mature players, but the tournament stage of postseason basketball can be draining on a young man’s mind; especially when it feels like bad events are piling up. Curry’s men will have to preserve if they want to avoid heading back to Boca Raton early.
Conference Counterparts: The final C-USA regular season standings look as such. A team’s C-USA record is in parenthesis.
Middle Tennessee: 27-4 (17-1)
L.A. Tech: 22-9 (14-4)
Old Dominion: 19-11 (12-6)
UTEP: 14-16 (12-6)
Rice: 21-10 (11-7)
Marshall: 17-14 (10-8)
UAB: 16-15 (9-9)
WKU: 15-16 (9-9)
UTSA: 13-18 (8-10)
Charlotte: 13-16 (7-11)
Florida Atlantic: 10-19 (6-12)
Southern Miss: 9-21 (6-12)
*FIU: 7-24 (3-15)
*North Texas: 8-11 (2-16)
*Denotes did not qualify for C-USA Tourney.
The Envelope Please: Ballots for season awards, including All C-USA teams and Player of the Year, were sent out to coaches and media last Monday. Adonis Filer and Gerdarius Troutman were nominated for the All C-USA team (of which there are three separate teams), with Troutman also being nominated for Newcomer of the Year. As mentioned earlier, Filer was nominated for All-Defense – though not Sixth Man of the Year, which may surprise some people until they remember Filer was a starter for half of the season. and Jailyn Ingram should be a lock for All-Freshman team.
Working Women: While the FAU women’s team finished their season without winning a single Conference USA game, several of the players cemented themselves as pieces for the future. Most notably, freshman Katelyn O’Reilly led the team in field goal percentage this year with a .498 mark and notched her first double-double of the season in last week’s loss to UAB with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Game of the Week: Seeing as FAU’s season could end with a loss to Marshall, Wednesday night’s C-USA tournament opener is the obvious choice here. Really, any game that FAU plays this week would classify, but FAU-Marshall on Wednesday night where the loser goes home? What else would you want in a Burrow Bits Game of the Week?