Aztecs vs. Florida Atlantic Final Four Preview: SDSU Hoping to Ride Dominant Defense to the National Title Game

How San Diego State matches up with FAU

To understand how big a deal the Final Four is, consider this:

The NCAA likes to play it in NFL facilities. NRG Stadium in Houston, site of this year’s event and home of the Texans, is so big that Viejas Arena, the home of the San Diego State Aztecs, would physically fit inside it.

Not just the court and the stands. THE ENTIRE BUILDING would fit inside comfortably. This is simply a different beast and it takes a little getting used to. Florida Atlantic, the team the Aztecs will meet in the national semi-final on Saturday, is going to have an even bigger adjustment. Their home gym seats fewer than 3,000 fans.

But, once the sheer enormity wears off, everyone remembers they’re still playing a basketball game, and that means SDSU is going to be putting on a defensive master class.

The Aztecs have already gone through Alabama, Furman, and College of Charleston. Those are three of the top 15 scoring teams in the nation. They held those three schools to an average of 23 points below their season averages. This team has embraced its identity as a defensive monster and takes joy in suffocating its opponents.

FAU, however, is eerily similar to SDSU. The Owls will play and eight-to-nine man rotation, just like the Aztecs. FAU had nine different players start games for them, just like the Aztecs. Their leading scorer averaged fewer than 15 points per game, just like the Aztecs. The Owls tend to play a lot of close, defense first, grind it out games, just like the Aztecs.

FAU is loved more by the computers than the humans, just like SDSU. The Owls are 13th in the NET Rankings and 17th according to KenPom. The Aztecs are 14th in both. Yet, one is a 9-seed while the other is a 5-seed. Since both of them reached the Final Four it proves, this year at least, the math was more accurate than the people.

So, with two teams that are so evenly matched, what’s the key to the game? Simple. The program that does what it does better and more efficiently than the other one wins.

Against Alabama we knew that if the Aztecs could keep the game close and frustrate the bammers on defense they’d win the game. This game it’s EXPECTED that’s going to be the case, and we expect FAU to do the same thing. When you have similar styles and no one superstar dominant player to take over a game on either side the result comes down to execution.

Here’s where coaching tips the scales.

Dusty May has done a fabulous job building FAU’s program. In four years there he’s led four winning seasons, a first for the school. But, he’s never been to the top of the mountain, even as an assistant. Brian Dutcher owns a national championship ring and went to a pair of other Final Fours as an assistant with Steve Fisher at Michigan.

Experience matters. It matters a lot. Dutch’s familiarity with the crucible that is the national semi-final. In this case that just might be the difference that tips the scales the Aztecs’ way.

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