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No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic preview, picks for Elite 8 of 2023 NCAA Tournament

The Kansas State Wildcats and Florida Atlantic Owls meet at Madison Square Garden in the Elite Eight of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the game here.

Michigan State v Kansas State Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

A trip to the Final Four is on the line when the No. 3 seed Kansas State Wildcats will take on the No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic. Kansas State advanced to this Elite Eight round after a thrilling 98-93 overtime victory against the Michigan State Spartans. As for Florida Atlantic, the Owls made a second half comeback in the Sweet 16 to down the Tennessee Volunteers 62-55.

Tip-off is scheduled for 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 25 while airing on TBS. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas State is favored by 2 with an over/under of 144.5.

No. 3 Kansas State: 23-9 (11-7 Big 12)

First round: Defeated No. 14 Montana State 77-65
Second round: Defeated No. 6 Kentucky 75-69
Sweet 16: Defeated No. 7 Michigan State 98-93
KenPom rating: 21 Overall, 35 Offense, 27 Defense
NET ranking: 24, (9-8 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Keyontae Johnson 17.7 ppg
Key stat: 11-1 this season when scoring at least 80 points.

Kansas State won a roller-coaster of a game against Michigan State in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats held the lead throughout most of the game, then the Spartans came back to force overtime. Kansas State was able to outlast MSU in overtime, winning by a score of 98-93.

The Wildcats’ one-two punch of Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell came through in that Sweet 16 win. Johnson, who leads KSU with 17.7 points per game, had a team-high 22 points with six rebounds. Nowell scored 20 points and set an NCAA Tournament single-game record with 19 assists.

These two players know how to get buckets no matter the opponent. Johnson and Nowell won’t be phased by a tough Florida Atlantic defense, as this combination seems to be finding its groove at the right time. That type of confidence could be the difference in another tight game. It worked against Kentucky and Michigan State.

No. 9 Florida Atlantic: 29-3 (18-2 Conference USA)

First round: Defeated No. 8 Memphis 66-65
Second round: Defeated No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 78-70
Sweet 16: Defeated No. 4 Tennessee 62-55
KenPom rating: 17 Overall, 26 Offense, 29 Defense
NET ranking: 13, (2-1 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Johnell Davis 13.9 ppg
Key stat: Holding opponents to a 45.7% effective field goal percentage (13th in nation)

In the Sweet 16, Florida Atlantic was losing 27-22 at halftime to Tennessee. However, the Owls went on a dominant run in the second half to claim a 62-55 victory. Johnell Davis stepped up once again for FAU, scoring 15 points with six rebounds. Nicholas Boyd has 12 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes of work.

That wasn’t the first time Davis rose to the occasion, as he scored 29 points with 12 rebounds and five assists in the second round win over Fairleigh Dickinson. The 6’4” guard has now scored at least 15 points in four of the last five games.

Florida Atlantic is a solid, all-around team without any glaring weaknesses. The Owls’ defense is one of the best in the nation, ranking 13th in opponent effective field goal rate. Look for FAU to try and knock this potent Kansas State offense out of rhythm, similar to how the Owls locked down Tennessee in the second half on Thursday. That, combined with the offensive success of Davis, is the blueprint for FAU to advance to its first Final Four in program history.

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Point spread: Kansas State -2
Point total: 144.5
Moneyline: KSU -130/FAU +110

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Kansas State -2

Florida Atlantic’s comeback win over Tennessee was no easy task. However, let’s face it: the Owls have had the easier path of these two teams. It feels like Kansas State is more battle-tested while coming up clutch in tight games against Kentucky and Michigan State.

The Wildcats have more firepower with Johnson and Nowell running the show. These two have stepped up repeatedly in close games, and Thursday’s overtime win serves as a prime example. That’s no disrespect to Davis of Florida Atlantic, who has been outstanding this season. However, it really feels like Kansas State will be able to execute better down the stretch, similar to what happened in the last two rounds.

For those reasons, I’ll take Kansas State to win and cover this small spread. Florida Atlantic’s Cinderella Story has been fun, but this should be the final chapter.