After defeating the cinderella in Farleigh Dickinson, the FAU Owls find themselves in the Sweet 16 tonight against the Tennessee Volunteers. We’ll break down the game between the nine seed and four seed before going over which side I’ll be backing this one.
Many people wrote off Tennessee when starting point guard Zakai Zeigler went down for the season with an injury, but after a narrow victory in the first round, the Vols ended up beating Duke by 13 in the round of 32. Defense has been the calling card for Tennessee all season, and that’s continued to be the case during the tournament, as they’ve allowed just 55 and 52 points in the first two rounds.
On the season, the Vols have the best-adjusted defensive efficiency rating in the country, according to KenPom. They have also held opponents to the third-lowest average shooting percentage at 37.2%. In their win over Duke, the Vols held the Blue Devils to a 43% field goal and 27% three-point percentage, all while forcing 14 turnovers.
Olivier Nkamhoua understood that he needed to step up in Zeigler’s absence for the Vols offense to be competitive, as he had 27 points against Duke while shooting 76.9% from the field. Nkamhoua will undoubtedly be challenged tonight by an Owls defense that is 33rd in defensive efficiency on KenPom and ranks 14th in the country in opponent two-point percentage.
The Owls held the Memphis Tigers, who rank 22nd in offensive efficiency, to 65 points in their first-round matchup. FAU needed to rely on their defense in that matchup since their offense which ranks 28th in offensive efficiency on KenPom, shot just 38% from the field.
Florida Atlantic’s offense got back on track in a big way against FDU, as they scored 46 points in the second half, with Johnell Davis leading the way with 29 points and 12 rebounds. The Owls have a nice balance on offense that can help them challenge the Vols, as they are ranked 41st in both two-point and three-point shooting percentage.
Florida Atlantic is currently listed as a (+5.5) point underdog tonight, and I’ll be backing them for my play in this one. I have minimal trust in the Volunteers regarding covering the spread in March. Over their last nine tournament games, the Vols are 2-7 ATS, and their head coach Rick Barnes is 2-11-1 ATS when favored in the tournament since his time with Texas.
On the other hand, FAU was 21-10-1 ATS this season and is 10-3-1 ATS in their last 14 games against teams with a .600 win percentage or higher. The Owls also can limit the strengths of the Vols. Offensively, Tennessee relies on a lot of ball movement to create good shots and even ranks 7th in assists per game, but FAU is allowing just 8.1 assists per game which is the 4th best average in the country.
Outside of the ball movement, the Volunteers get a lot of scoring from second-chance looks off offensive rebounds. The Vols are 6th in offensive rebounding percentage, but FAU is 12th in defensive rebounds per game. The Owls are also a challenging offensive opponent and rank higher in offensive efficiency than Duke. Overall in what will likely be a slow-paced game, I don’t think Tennessee can do enough to pull away and build a big lead.
Florida Atlantic (+5.5)