Throughout modern NCAA men’s basketball tournament history, underdogs who defied expectations with a deep March Madness run have garnered admiration, notoriety, and respect at the expense of an eventual coaching change.
Only in recent years have the coaches behind the tournament’s most memorable Cinderella stories turned their resume victories into bigger jobs and bigger paydays.
The most notable examples are those coaches behind magical Final Four performances like Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart and Loyola Chicago’s Porter Moser. Another recent example is Shaheen Holloway, former Saint Peter’s coach, who led the Peacocks to the Elite Eight last year and quickly took the same position at Seton Hall.
After all, the same will almost certainly happen to Florida Atlantic and Coach Dusty May, by far the most successful coach in the history of the program. Keeping him on the sidelines is a long-term priority for FAU, which ranked among the worst programs in Division I before hiring the then-Florida assistant in 2018.
But in the era of the transfer portal and widespread player movement – and with May appearing set to return for at least one more season – the most pressing and immediate concern for FAU is retaining a talented but overlooked roster that has played nationally throughout four consecutive tournaments Shown was Wins.
“As much as any coach would love to keep a great group together for two, three, four years, the reality is we’re in a new normal and these young guys are free agents every year,” the former St. John’s said and New Mexico coach Fran Fraschilla. “It’s a reality that you have to accept when you’re a college coach.”
Is this a one-off race for FAU?
This historic climb put the owls on the map. But can they stay together to build this remarkable season, or will bigger programs stand out from the roster by offering bigger platforms and more lucrative name, image and likeness packages?
“Without a doubt, it’s going to be fluid every day,” May said. “And until the ball is tipped next season, you might not really know who your squad is going to be, and it’s part of that. Luckily I’m still relatively young and have a lot of energy because I don’t think there will come a day when you can just relax and not worry about your phone buzzing.”
FAU players who shone in tournament play put on a show for schools, teams and potential suitors.
Leading scorer, second-year guard Johnell Davis has averaged 17.3 points per game in tournament play, with a peak of 29 points in the second round against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Sophomore center Vlad Goldin had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the East Regional Finals against Kansas State. (Goldin has previously transferred from Texas Tech once and would not be able to transfer again with immediate eligibility without an NCAA waiver or without first earning his degree.)
Sophomore guard Alijah Martin scored 17 points against Kansas State, highlighted by one of the most electrifying dunks of the tournament, a one-handed slam early in the game that set the tone for the Owls’ victory.
Players like Davis and Martin might have been transfer targets even if the Owls’ season had ended in the first round of tournament play.
“It’s just not the national stage,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “You don’t have to make a Final Four or run a tournament for coaches to notice good players in other rosters. This is how business must be done now. If you’re not scouting other teams and knowing what’s available in the portal, you’re not doing your job.”
FAU players are being targeted
But there’s no question that the Owls’ tournament success has made Davis, Martin and others even more desirable off-season targets. As an example, Saint Peter’s had eight players move from last season’s elite eight, with just one following from Holloway to Seton Hall.
“The portal is fine,” said Bilas. “It has made it much easier for teams to get good in a hurry, which previously took longer. But of course it’s different now to keep players. So everyone has to adapt.”
The overriding concern is evident: FAU could lose on Saturday and be immediately placed on the defensive to retain the squad responsible for one of the most successful seasons by a not-so-large program in modern tournament history.
In other words, is this a one-shot deal for FAU, or is it the start of something even bigger?
“One would hope that a successful program like FAU, or even schools at the power conference level, would be able to keep their teams intact because of the success,” Fraschilla said. “But individual success is not always the same as team success and vice versa.”
What could keep the owls together
Three factors could help FAU stick together and take another step forward after this breakthrough season.
Although the American isn’t counted among the six powerhouses in Division I, she represents a measurable improvement over Conference USA in terms of prestige and recognition. The AAC had two teams at this year’s tournament, including one of Houston’s top-seeded overall teams. (FAU defeated second UK team, Memphis, in the first round.)
More importantly, the AAC will also provide a huge financial boost. While teams in Conference USA receive approximately $500,000 annually through media rights, the AAC pays out approximately $7 million per team annually.
From a NIL perspective, FAU will never be able to compete with major conference programs that partner with outside groups to create potentially lucrative endorsement deals for their student-athletes.
But the imminent increase in the athletics division’s annual revenue could eventually trigger a trickle-down effect on NIL. With more money, FAU could invest more in the basketball program, building on this year’s success and leveraging the school’s rapidly growing alumni base.
In the near future, the Owls could be motivated to stay together and build this season.
“It’s not a ‘might’, it will be the beginning of something. We’re all getting back together as a group,” said junior guard Brandon Weatherspoon.
“It won’t be the last time we’re here. We do not transfer children. We get through times and we stick together. We can lean on each other when we need each other. So I don’t break apart or anything. We are a family. This is a family, it’s not just a basketball team.
And if the owls remain intact, next year’s team could be outstanding. FAU only has one senior in the rotation, guard Michael Forrest, and could bring back 12 of this year’s top 13 players.
“Hopefully I’m not sitting here or somewhere with a new roster,” May said. “Every time we’ve lost a player in the portal, we feel like we’ve been upgraded. And now with the notoriety of our program – but we like our boys. We like our team.”
Follow college reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Final Four Run turning point for Owls. Three factors decide fate.
Source : sports.yahoo.com