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Dusty May Has Florida Atlantic Set Up For Its First NCAA Tournament Appearance Since 2002

FAU’s 20-game win streak was snapped on Thursday, but the Owls are still in the drivers seat for an at-large bid.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 26 Florida Atlantic at Charlotte Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Florida Atlantic lost to UAB on Thursday night, the Owls' 20-game win streak was snapped. Immediately, they were erased from many people’s minds who had never watched them.

It showed as a few days later, they were out of the AP Top 25. It seemed as if everything they’d done had been discredited. I’m here to tell you that’s stupid logic. This Owls team is the best true mid-major program out there this season and they have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

They’ve done it in a different way. Here’s how we’ve gotten to this point and why the Owls should be on your radar.


Efficiency was the Owls' problem last season, but they showed signs of being a top program in the Conference USA.

Their only Top-100 win was against Louisiana Tech at home, but they kept it within single digits against the likes of Miami, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico, and North Texas. Against teams ranked lower than 200 on KenPom, they finished with a 16-3 record. They were beating the teams they were supposed beat.

After the first couple of practices of spring, head coach Dusty May started to feel like they had a team that could be in contention for the Conference USA title.

“We knew how competitive the league would be but we also thought we were even better than our record last year (19-15),” he said to Mid-Major Madness. “Where this year, we found different ways to win. Last year, we found different ways to lose.”


Arguably, the most crucial set of games for the Owls were the first five.

In this stretch, FAU played its only two Power-5 opponents of the season along with combatting some of the best guard play in the country when Bryant and Detroit Mercy came into town. It was a good start to the season for FAU as they took care of business in the opener against non-Division-I Lynn. They struggled in their first P-5 game at Ole Miss, but that was the last loss they’d see for nearly two months. Little did anyone know that night in Oxford would change FAU’s season.

Three days later, they made a statement. For the first time since 2018, FAU beat a P-5 opponent when they went to Gainesville and beat the Florida Gators. It wasn’t easy as they trailed by 10 with 14:15 left, but a 30-6 run put the game out of reach.

This was also where some of their identity began to show. Michael Forrest scored 20 points off the bench. That wouldn’t be the last time that the Owls leading scorer would come off the bench.

“This win shows that we can weather some storms and stay composed,” May said postgame. “Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.”

The Owls won the next nine games by double-digits before heading into the heart of league play. Sitting at 10 games, their win streak faced its toughest test yet when they visited North Texas in Denton to close out 2022.

Beginning of Conference Play

After opening league play with a win against rival FIU, the Owls jumped right into the fire, at North Texas and home against UAB.

In Denton, the Owls trailed by nine with 4:17 left. A single-digit deficit isn’t that bad, but given North Texas’ defense it felt larger. That was no problem for this gritty team though, as they finished the game on a 13-0 run and won by four.

For many, that wasn’t enough and just a few days later the Owls would host their biggest regular season game in school history — a midweek matchup against the UAB Blazers.

Once again, a late push from the comeback kids extended the win streak. The Owls trailed by six with 3:48 remaining and ended up winning by two. Once again, the leading scorer came off the bench when Johnell Davis scored 36 points.

“His entire work ethic and dedication to the game increased tenfold (this offseason),” May said. “He’s worked religiously since midseason last year.”

Since that win, the community has bought in and they’ve been selling out Baldwin Arena.

“Just the fact that we’re selling out every home game — that’s not easy to do in South Florida,” May said. “You can turn on a Heat game if they play tonight and it might be one-third full just because there’s so much competition, so much traffic, so much going on. Us being a new school, we don’t have the alumni base that many land-grant universities have. So a lot of people that have jumped on board are people that really like basketball and have no affiliation with FAU.”

How They’ve Done It

Now, before we get into last week, you might wonder in a deeper sense “how has this team been so successful out of the blue?”

It all starts with growth in efficiency, defensive effort, and just flat-out outstanding coaching.

Last season, the Owls struggled to stay efficient, ranking in the mid-100s of both offensive and defensive efficiency. This season, the Owls rank in the top 45 of the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re one of 19 teams in the country to do that and one of four mid-majors. The other three are all locks for the NCAA Tournament at this point in the season being Nevada, San Diego State, and St.Mary’s.

Dusty May thanks the contributions off the bench and consistency in the starting lineup for this success.

After the first five games of the win streak, FAU had the same four guards and one center lineup. It wasn’t planned like that, but their top two scoring producers come off the bench.

“I would love to say that this was intentional and well constructed,” May said. “Johnell (Davis) and Alijah (Martin) both got injured early in the season and missed a game or two and then played limited minutes for a game or two. So, we started playing really well, especially on the defensive side of the ball so when they came back and we kinda hit our stride, it was more-or-less ‘I’m gonna bring you off the bench, are you okay with that?’ And they both said, ‘Oh yeah, no problem.’ It’s one of those things where you just don’t want to rock the boat.”

It shows how strong of a coach May is to realize something was going right. Also, the ability for his two leading producers to feel comfortable coming off the bench, and producing as they have. It’s not easy to be thrown into that role.

On the defensive end, they have another coach-like athlete on the floor in 7-foot-1-inch Russian Vladislav Goldin. Goldin is the leading scorer and rebounder for all starters but the deeper you dig, the more you realize just what he does for them.

Outside of Giancarlo Rosado’s 16.9 minutes per game, he is the only significant contributor over 6-foot-4. Along with that, he is a 64.2% shooter from the field. In the Conference USA, he ranks in the top five of offensive rating, offensive rebounding percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and two-point shooting percentage.

He does it all for the Owls.

“The thing that really makes our five-men unique other than being complete opposites is their communication,” said May. “This year we went into it (the season) that we were going to get him (Goldin) the basketball more and trust the rim protection behind him.”

With the rim protection, there’s also ball control, and the Owls rank in the top 70 of the country in offensive turnover percentage.

They’re doing a lot of things right.

Roadbump at UAB

The eyes of the college basketball world were on Florida Atlantic on Thursday night and it didn’t go all too well.

Last season’s NCAA Tournament participant out of the Conference USA, UAB, returned its star player Jordan “Jelly” Walker and the Blazers unleashed hell on the Owls.

In the first half, UAB was able to stretch its lead out to as many as 16. FAU struggled with the elite passing of Jelly in the second half and their late push was not enough to get over the hump, losing by nine.

Now AP voters and other casual college basketball fans looked at this loss as a bad one. It was actually the complete opposite. As we mentioned earlier, FAU took care of business when the Blazers took the trip down to Florida. It was a net positive and has actually moved the Owls up six spots on KenPom in the last week.

KenPom classified the game as the toughest left on the Owls' schedule and a Quad-A matchup. Don’t forget that this same UAB team dominated two SEC opponents earlier this season and were a fringe top-25 team coming into the year.

They were no joke.

You can take this as a positive though. The Owls don’t have to deal with the stress of keeping this long winning streak alive and can focus on keeping their head down and working themselves into position to get an at-large bid.

“That’s what’s odd about it,” May said. “It was odd because each streak crept up on you. These guys, the next day in practice, and the next day in the weight room, when it was time to watch their clips and film, they were exactly the same. They’re not going to get the external love but it allows us to focus on getting better. When you are told how great you are for a long time, you have the tendency to believe it.”

Bounceback at Charlotte

Following the UAB game, it was not an easy trip to the next city.

The Owls changed buses right outside of Birmingham, traveled to their hotel in Atlanta (which was described to me, not as a Boca Raton resort). Then, the team flew to Charlotte for their Saturday game against the 49ers.

Now for Charlotte, it was not all cake for them either. The 49ers were not at full strength as their big man Aly Khalifa fell ill earlier in the week and missed the game. Ultimately, it was no problem for them in the first half, as they led FAU by one at the intermission.

That only meant so much though because like we’ve mentioned throughout this whole article... FAU is a second-half team. They showed it again and it was a beautiful thing to see in person.

FAU opened the second half on a 6-0 run. After a couple of Charlotte points, the Owls’ went on a 12-0 run to stretch their lead out to 15 and later 22. It was once again the defense that was impressive.

Charlotte opened the second half 1-10 from the field, 0-8 from 3-point range, and were held to only nine total rebounds in the frame.

“I thought our physicality, activity, and picking them up full court, we definitely feel like we were able to slow them down because of our sheer numbers,” May said.

After the press conference, I went back out onto the court to talk to coach after the game. He did his postgame hit on radio, then walked over to me and spoke for a few minutes. After that, straight to his players to do some coaching.

Through the whole traveling debacle, SID Evan Shomo told me that May and staff never stopped working. They sat there, picked apart film and it ultimately helped them win a game. They do that every night out, working their asses off to help this program gain the national notoriety that it has deserved.

Road Ahead

FAU has a schedule set for success.

They do not have another top-100 KenPom opponent on its schedule and its highest-ranked game is at Middle Tennessee on Feb. 16. They are projected to win all of those with four having a win probability of 88% or greater.

To add onto that, those great crowds that they’ve been having can continue to see the success of this team as four of the final seven games are at home.

Take care of business and they’ll have no problem making it to March Madness for the first time since 2002. But, please, give the Owls some respect.