While this season has already been a Cinderella story for Florida Atlantic, the Owls still have a chance to tack on another chapter.
Ninth-seeded FAU will have the chance to capture its first NCAA Tournament win on Friday at Columbus, Ohio, when it takes on No. 8 seed Memphis in an East Region first-round game.
The Owls (31-3) have recorded their most wins in program history, received their first ranking in the AP Top 25 poll and defeated UAB 78-56 on Saturday to win the Conference USA tournament.
FAU has been to the NCAA Tournament just one other time — losing to Alabama in 2002 — and now has the chance to get familiar with Memphis (26-8), which is trying to become a tourney regular again. The two teams will be seeing plenty of each other when FAU joins join the American Athletic Conference in July.
“The suspense was gone because we knew we were in, but we were excited to see who we were going to play, where we were going to play and when,” Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said. “Obviously, Memphis is a great opponent, a storied program, well-coached. We’re excited to see how we stack up with our future AAC opponent.”
Chances are, Memphis will be the team to beat in the conference next season. It is coming off Sunday’s 75-65 victory over then-No. 1 Houston in the AAC tournament championship game.
Kendric Davis finished with a game-high 31 points for the Tigers, who took down the Cougars in their final game as members of the AAC. Houston will join the Big 12 in July.
Davis, who is averaging a team-high 22.1 points per game, is in his first season at Memphis after three seasons at SMU and his first one at TCU. As someone who dreamt of reaching the NCAA Tournament, Davis felt a great sense of relief when the Tigers secured an automatic bid.
“It feels great,” Davis said. “I had long nights questioning would I ever get there. Being at SMU was hard.
“And then I see coach Penny (Hardaway) and I already knew his story and where he came from. I just wanted to be a part of that. He told me, we’re trying to win a championship just like you are, and we’re sitting here today.”
Hardaway took the time to enjoy the victory with his team, but he also started preparing for the Owls immediately.
“They beat some good teams pretty badly all year,” Hardaway said. “So we know that they’re going to be for real, and once we get to watch film, we’ll come up with a game plan and be ready for them.”
Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin have spearheaded FAU’s offensive attack, averaging 13.5 and 13.2 points, respectively. Vladislav Goldin also has been a key contributor with 10.6 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game.
For Memphis, Deandre Williams has been a strong No. 2 option behind Davis and has averaged 17.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
Friday marks the second all-time meeting between the Tigers and Owls. Memphis won the lone contest between the schools 96-46 on Feb. 3, 1993.
–Field Level Media