Loyola-Chicago Ramblers vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Pick & Prediction NOVEMBER 8th 2023

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Returning all five starters from an improbable run to the first Final Four in program history understandably has Florida Atlantic men’s basketball fans buzzing.

As for the No. 10 Owls? They are walking the impossible line of excitement and practicality.

FAU knows everything starts over Wednesday when the team meets Loyola Chicago in the opener of the Barstool Sports Invitational at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

“We aren’t satisfied with what we did last year,” Owls guard Johnell Davis said. “We have to leave it in the past. Last year is last year. Now it’s a new year so we have to prove ourselves this year.”

Florida Atlantic rolled to a 35-4 record in 2022-23, advancing all the way to a national semifinal against San Diego State, where the eventual NCAA tournament runner-up Aztecs prevailed by one point on a buzzer-beater.

The Owls represented Conference USA then, but now are moving into the American Athletic Conference. FAU was tapped as the preseason conference favorite, as coach Dusty May’s full starting lineup and a little bit more chases a Final Four rerun.

Davis (13.8 points a game) and fellow guard Alijah Martin (13.4) averaged double-figure scoring alongside 7-foot-1 center Vladislav Golden (10.2), who also was the Owls’ top rebounder at 6.5 a game.

Nick Boyd (8.9 points a game) and Bryan Greenlee (7.3) also return.

“Coming into the American, we know there are new competitors,” Greenlee said. “It is obviously going to be very challenging, but we just take a day-by-day approach and try to attack each day the best that we can.”

Davis and Martin declared for the 2023 NBA Draft but did not hire agents, which permitted them to return to the Owls. The backcourt duo credits scouts’ assessments for helping them target their offseason training regimen.

Loyola Chicago can attest to the conference transition process, albeit in a fashion the Owls hope to avoid.

Pivoting from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Atlantic 10 last season, the Ramblers stumbled to the cellar of their new league, finishing 10-21 overall and 4-14 in A-10 play.

Ramblers coach Drew Valentine hopes the experience coupled with the overall continuity of the team’s returners and seasoning of its transfers can provide a boost to Loyola’s morale — and spot in the standings.

“We’ve proven ourselves as a program, the development that we’ve been able to have, the way that our guys have gotten better and stayed here. … I think our roster will have more athleticism, physicality [that’s] needed to compete at this level,” Valentine said.

Philip Alston, whose 14.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game led the Ramblers last season, was named to the preseason all-conference second team.

Alston paced all scorers with 17 points in a mere 15 minutes as the Ramblers routed Trinity Christian College 104-44 in an Oct. 29 exhibition game. Transfers Patrick Mwamba (Oral Roberts) and Greg Dolan (Cornell) added 13 and 10 points, respectively, while freshman Miles Rubin, a product of Chicago’s Simeon High School, scored 11.

“We’ve changed a little bit, tweaked some of how we flow into offense. I wanted to make it more natural and kind of fit our personnel and make some things more simple but yet fast offensively,” Valentine said.

–Field Level Media

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