Stephen Vilardo’s MWC Final Four Men’s Hoops Preview

The Aztecs face Florida Atlantic today in the first Final Four appearance for either school

Posted on March 31, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

San Diego State is still playing basketball as the calendar turns to April.

The Aztecs will face off with the Florida Atlantic Owls in the first Final Four appearance for either school.

San Diego State’s run to Houston also marks the first Final Four trip for the Mountain West.

A win by SDSU on Saturday evening would push the conference to 5-3 in the NCAA Tournament this spring and mark the most-ever combined wins by the Mountain West in a single tournament.

Teams from the conference won four games in the 2011 edition. It is worth noting that all the wins this season have come from the Aztecs.

5-seed San Diego State vs 9-seed Florida Atlantic

Saturday, April 1
3:09 pm PT, CBS

To get that fifth win and a chance to play for their first national championship the Aztecs will need to beat a very good FAU squad.

Obviously, to get to the Final Four teams must be good, but don’t let that nine fool you.

The Owls entered the tournament 10th nationally in RPI and were 13th in the NET rankings on Selection Sunday, one spot ahead of the Aztecs at 14th.

Both were ahead of many who were seeded higher. In fact, among the four teams still playing this weekend. Miami entered the tournament lowest in the NET at 35, and UConn was eighth.

FAU won 35 games this season, the most in the nation, and the Owls are currently riding an 11-game winning streak, the longest in the nation (tied with Merrimack).

Just behind the Owls in the win streak department is San Diego State and their eight-straight W’s.

The Aztecs and the Owls are both among the nation’s best rebounding teams this season. FAU ranks 18th in the nation with a total rebound rate of 53.9%. SDSU is 30th at 53.1%.

The Owls dominated Kansas State on the glass, grabbing 66.7% of the rebounds on offer as they finished with a 44-22 edge on rebounds.

The breakdown of offensive and defensive rebound rates is a near-carbon copy. San Diego State has an offensive rebound rate of 30.62% while allowing opponents to gather just 24.0% of misses.

FAU guard Alijah Martin vs Kansas State | Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Similarly, FAU is allowing rebounds on 23.7% of opponents’ missed shots and getting another look at 30% of their own missed shots. All told Florida Atlantic is 29-0 this season when outrebounding their opponents.

As one would expect, the number of extra scoring chances per game compared to opponents is also similar. The Aztecs are +3.0 per game on the season while the Owls are +2.3 per game.

In the Elite Eight, San Diego State had seven more scoring chances than Creighton in the one-point win.

FAU, however, ended the game against Kansas State with one less scoring chance than the Wildcats despite the huge rebounding advantage.

This was due to the Owls’ 22 turnovers as they turned the ball over on 29.3% of their possessions. That could be a pathway to victory for the Aztecs.

FAU is also proficient in shooting the three, ranking ninth in the nation with 10.1 made three-pointers per game, and the Owls are shooting 36.53% from downtown.

The Aztecs are third in the nation against the three, limiting opponents to just 27.9% this season.

In the NCAA Tournament, the Aztecs have held opponents to just 22.6% from distance and limited Creighton to 2-of-17 on Sunday.

Both teams are deep.

The Aztecs have nine players averaging more than 16.0 minutes per game and are 22nd in the nation with 26.5 points off their bench per game.

Aztec forward Keshad Johnson vs Creighton |

FAU is second in the country with 33.2 points per game coming from their bench. Across the board these teams are similar in so many categories.

Johnell Davis is averaging 17.3 points per game for the Owls in the NCAA tournament. San Diego State will need to bottle him up as best they can.

FAU can also get offensive production from Alijah Martin and Bryan Greenlee on the outside. Inside, the Owls have good size in 7-1 Vladislav Goldin.

He can be productive, but is not nearly the rim protector as what the Aztecs saw in Ryan Kalkbrenner last time out—nor is he pose the offensive threat the Creighton big man did.

San Diego State will need to keep this game in the 60’s or low 70’s to truly be successful. The Aztecs make their noise on the defensive end of the floor and should be able to control things at that end.

Scoring the basketball is sometimes the issue. Darrion Trammell was able to score for the Aztecs in Louisville, averaging 16.5 points in the two games last weekend.

For the tournament, he is averaging 12.5. Matt Bradley got into foul trouble against Alabama and struggled to find his shot against Creighton.

If the Aztecs can get good numbers from both of them, they should have enough offense to continue playing for one more game.

And always be on the lookout for the hometown heroes in these types of games to have a big game, big shot, or big stop. Jaedon LeDee returns home and could be that guy for San Diego State.

—More from Stephen Vilardo—