Two mid-majors advance. Interestingly they will face each other in Houston. FAU and San Diego State, both making first trips to the Final Four, will meet in one matchup while Miami and UConn square off in the other.
The course of a game gives a number of key plays that can alter the ebb and flow. Here, beside a few numbers, is a look at how both FAU and San Diego State literally ‘survived and advanced’ close contests not decided until the final seconds. Or second.
In an uptempo 73 possession game FAU defeated Kansas State 79-76 at Madison Square Garden. The Owls won the offensive efficiency battle 108-104.
What FAU did well. Show resilience. In a game which would ultimately give us seven ties and 12 lead changes, momentum appeared to be on the side of Kansas State. The Wildcats held a 57-50, their largest, with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game. Dusty May’s owls went to work. Following two three pointers, FAU went on a 7-0 run to move in front. In the stretch an eight point FAU lead with just under three to play was reduced to one. FAU sealed it from the free throw line, punching their ticket to Houston.
K-State had a 30-15 edge in points off turnovers, forcing the Owls into an extremely high 30% turnover rate. FAU compensated, enjoying a 45-14% domination in offensive rebounding percentage. FAU enjoyed a 15-2 advantage in second chance points.
Markquis Nowell of Kansas State (26-10) led all with 30 points, 12 assists. FAU (35-3) showed balance with four players in double figures, led by Alijah Martin with 17.
San Diego State advanced to their first Final Four edging Creighton 57-56 in Louisville. In a slower 62 possession pace, favoring the Aztecs, San Diego State held a slight 92-90 offensive efficiency advantage.
What San Diego State did well. Defend! Brian Dutcher’s group did the job on the defensive end. They were outstanding on the perimeter, holding the Blue Jays, a normally 35% shooting team, to 12% (2-17) shooting from three point range. Overall, the Aztecs limited Creighton to a mark 25 below their 22nd ranked average efficiency of 115.
Lamont Butler of San Diego State (31-6) was the leading scorer with 18 points. Ryan Kalkbrenner led Creighton (24-13) with 17.
Controversy was the order of the day as Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard fouled San Diego State’s Darrion Trammell with 1.2 seconds remaining. Trammel hit the second of two free throw attempts to break the tie. A long inbound pass by the Blue Jays was broken up on the ensuing possession. After careful review the officials deemed time expired and the Aztecs were Houston-bound.
Much was discussed about the foul. Nembhard’s one hand did not impede the shooter. His other hand displaced the shooter to the point that Trammell fell. The shooter was clearly impeded while attempting the shot. It was the right call.
There are critics who say ‘let the players decide the game’. They did. In a camp I attended as an official years ago, one instructor said a last second foul is a player telling you ‘I cannot stay with my opponent without fouling’. Make the call because that player fouling is actually helping decide the game.
One last play does not win or lose a game. Ultimately, a team could have done or not done a number of things in the course of the contest. As noted, Creighton shooting 12% from three had more bearing on the outcome than that last call.
Creighton was denied a first trip to the Final Four in a most heartbreaking manner. Creighton coach Greg McDermott (no surprise) took the high road saying. "We win with class and we lose with class."