In a season where the AP poll seemingly goes through huge swings every week, Charleston and Florida Atlantic deserve to be discussed among the biggest surprises. The Cougars, long considered one of the most coveted mid-major jobs in the country, cracked the top 25 earlier this month for the first time in 20 years. And on Monday, FAU joined them, earning a ranking for the first time in program history.
Pat Kelsey and Dusty May have Charleston and FAU, respectively, positioned as two of the best mid-major teams in college basketball this season. They’re two of the four remaining one-loss teams overall, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that at least one of them is wearing home jerseys for the first round of the NCAA tournament. That said, Charleston’s only win over a high-major team came against Virginia Tech, while FAU split its games against Ole Miss and Florida Gators, beating the latter.
So how good, really, are these two teams? Can they win a game or two in the NCAA tournament? Or are they more likely to struggle when matched up with power conference teams in March? We talked to opposing coaches to find out.
What they do well
Offensively, FAU is a balanced group. Nobody averages more than 13 points and five players average at least nine per game. The Owls rank in the top 20 nationally in 3-pointers per game, making nearly 10 every contest, and they have six different players who have made at least 15 shots from behind the arc.
“It’s not like it’s a lot of firepower, it’s togetherness and simplicity,” one Conference USA coach told ESPN. “Alijah Martin is physically gifted, Michael Forrest is a gifted shot-maker, [Johnell] Davis is a heck of a one-on-one player. It’s not like an overwhelming amount of talent, it’s just a constant and consistent level of play. They’re making 3s. Their spacing is terrific. They really share it, they spread you out.”
Another coach said, “Their offense is predicated on ball movement, first side, second side, spreading you out, then breaking you down from there. They’re really good at sharing the ball, spacing the floor, getting you in rotations. Dusty is brilliant at drawing up things for his players.”
While FAU ranks No. 23 nationally in 3-point percentage and 19th in the country in percentage of points from 3s, the Owls have some balance on the interior in Vladislav Goldin. The Texas Tech transfer gives May a legitimate option inside at both ends of the floor. He’s an elite rebounder — especially on the offensive end — blocks shots and gets to the free throw line.
FAU Men’s Basketball Defeats FIU 77-73 In Overtime.🦉
Check Out This Clutch 3 From Michael Forrest 🥶 @m_ke1135
— LIGHT ON COLLEGE SPORTS (@LightOnSports) January 12, 2023
“Goldin is legit good,” an opposing coach said. “He moves well. When he was a freshman at Texas Tech, [Chris] Beard threw him out there a couple times. He can finish around the rim, he’s very agile, rebounds his tail off. Defensively, he can hold his own. He’s really good.”
One unique aspect of the Owls is May’s use of three of his four best players. Davis, Martin and Forrest each missed time with an injury this season, and instead of immediately slotting them back into the starting lineup, May chose to use them off the bench. While all three see plenty of minutes anyway, it can be demoralizing mentally for opponents.
“It’s a psychological thing,” a C-USA coach said. “If we’re losing, if we’re not doing as well as we want to, if we’re down at the first timeout — and then their reinforcements are better than your reinforcements.”
Where they struggle