The Florida Gators play their first men’s basketball game on national television this season against Florida Atlantic on this Monday night. But we know more or less what we’re going to see from the Gators; So long as Colin Castleton is around, they will revolve around him, and excel when they can supplement his excellence with their own.
Let’s talk about the Owls instead.
Florida Atlantic is not a nationally relevant men’s basketball program. In fact, the image that headlines this article isn’t of head coach Dusty May at FAU, but rather him as a Florida assistant during the 2017 NCAA Tournament; between Getty and USA TODAY Sports Images, the two databases that SB Nation contracts with for photo use, there are just three photos of May available, and the two of him as the head Owl feature his face turned away from the camera and a portrait layout that would not have worked well with the way our cropping tool works.
That is sort of par for the course for the program, which has spent the better part of the last 30 years shuffling through some coaches with varying profiles — Matt Doherty, Rex Walters, and Mike Jarvis at the high end of former high-major types, father-of-Taurean Sidney Green and Trans America Athletic Conference-era coach (imagine that name existing today!) Kevin Billerman at the lower end of lesser-known names, all of them coaches whose college basketball careers essentially ended in Boca Raton — without much success.
FAU has been in Division I since the 1994-95 season. It has one NCAA Tournament appearance — by virtue of three-single digit wins in the 2002 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, or two leagues ago — and one 20-win season under Jarvis, which was followed immediately by an 11-19 season in which the Owls somehow led the nation in threes allowed as a percentage of shot attempts and still permitted opponents to shoot 36 percent on the threes they did get up.
It’s been a mostly unhappy existence for the Owls. May might just change that.
FAU hasn’t finished outside the top 200 in KenPom — relatively speaking, a feat — under May, who arrived for the 2018-19 season, importing much of the Mike White Cinematic Universe to town. And they’ve been a winning team in each of those seasons, too, with last year’s team fighting its way to 19-15 thanks largely to some good percentages from the field on offense. The Owls bowed out early in the Conference USA Tournament and went 1-5 against the quartet of C-USA teams that won 24 or more games, but most of a young team has returned this year.
And what might be the Owls’ two most important players just acquitted themselves nicely against Ole Miss, even in an 80-67 loss. Seven-footer Vladislav Goldin had 19 points and nine rebounds against the Rebels, while Alijah Martin went for 16 thanks mostly to three treys. Ole Miss led throughout and put the Owls at arm’s length with a 12-0 run midway through the first half, but never quite ran away — kind of like Florida with Kennesaw State last Friday.
That’s maybe the sort of game the Gators — who should win, but might never be comfortable — can expect tonight, with the chances of Gainesville native Bryan Greenlee going off seeming high. And that’s the sort of game that would vindicate both some of what White left behind in Gainesville and what his assistant is building in Boca Raton.