Kansas State Wildcats vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
Line: Kansas State -2
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
When: Saturday, 3/25 at 6:09 p.m. ET
No one has made a name for themselves in this year’s NCAA Tournament quite like Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell.
He scored 20 points and set an NCAA Tournament record with 19 assists in a thrilling overtime win against No. 7 seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, pouring in 27 points against No. 6 seed Kentucky in his return to home to New York City. His alley-oop to Keyontae Johnson with 52 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
“Today was a special one, man,” Nowell said. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates for battling, for fighting through adversity when we was down. I can’t even explain how I’m feeling right now. I just know that I’m blessed and I’m grateful.”
Nowell will be tasked with facing East Region Cinderella Florida Atlantic, which advanced to the Elite Eight with a 62-55 win over No. 4 seed Tennessee on Thursday night. The Owls had previously taken down No. 8 seed Memphis and gotten past No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson during the opening weekend.
Caesars Sportsbook opened Kansas State as a 1.5-point favorite on Thursday night before the early betting action quickly pushed that spread to -2. Saturday night’s total opened at 146.5, but it dipped to 144 as of early Saturday. The Owls have gone ‘under’ the total in five of their last six games, while Kansas State has gone ‘over’ in five of its last six games.
Nowell clinched the win for Kansas State with a steal and a layup at the buzzer, drawing national praise from athletes such as Patrick Mahomes and Kevin Durant. Johnson, who was sidelined for nearly two years after collapsing on the court during a game for Florida in 2020, finished with a team-high 22 points on Thursday.
“Well, what really helps is that all 10 eyes on the defense have to pay attention to him, and that’s what allows everybody else to get open,” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “It’s not just that he sees it, but they all have to pay attention to him when he has the ball in his hands.”
Kansas State turned the ball over just five times in 45 minutes against Michigan State, despite being ranked No. 263 in turnover rate. The Wildcats also shot 11 of 24 from 3-point range, which has not been one of their strengths this season. They are facing a Florida Atlantic defense that held Tennessee to four points in a six-minute stretch during the second half that allowed the Owls to take control of proceedings.
Michael Forrest scored eight straight points, hitting consecutive 3-pointers to put his team up by two points with 9:49 remaining. He capped his personal 8-0 run with a difficult layup and the Owls never looked back, outrebounding Tennessee 40-36, turning 12 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points.
“We know we’re not the tallest team,” center Vlad Goldin said. “So, we know we have to be quick to the ball. We have to be physical. We have to raise our physicality. But it’s not something to be scared of.”
Florida Atlantic’s offense has been its calling card in the national scouting report, ranked inside the top 50 in 3-point percentage (36.5) and 2-point percentage (53.9). The Owls found a different way to win on Thursday, shooting just 29.6% from 3-point range and 42.0% from the floor. They are facing a Kansas State defense that is No. 27 in adjusted efficiency and No. 21 in 3-point percentage.
The Wildcats are 7-2 against the spread in their last nine games, winning six of their last seven games against Conference USA opponents. Florida Atlantic is 7-3 ATS in its last 10 games, winning all of those contests outright.
The pick: Kansas State -2
Kansas State has now gone 20-0 (17-3 ATS) in its last 20 games as a favorite, covering the spread in nine straight games in that role. The Wildcats are not quite as good as Tennessee on the defensive end, but they are still a physical team that can give Florida Atlantic the same problems that the Vols did for 75% of Thursday’s game. The Owls had one of their worst offensive performances of the year, but Tennessee’s own scoring issues wound up being the determining factor. Kansas State has an elite point guard to engineer its offensive sets, so the Wildcats are not going to fall into a 10-minute lull.