FAU or Northwestern? How to pick 8 vs. 9 matchup in 2024 March Madness bracket

College basketball is a fickle game.

It’s among the most unpredictable contests in all of American sports, a dizzying carousel of blemished beauty that entices the masses. The Ides of March can prove especially entrancing to those caught in its glare, especially when those sides spend the regular season straddling the bubble.

The East Region in the 2024 March Madness bracket pits two of the like against one another. They couldn’t be more different, admittedly. No. 8 Florida Atlantic is a side bursting with vigor, just one year removed from a stunning run to the Final Four.

No. 9 Northwestern, meanwhile, is a program desperate for tournament success. Having qualified for the Big Dance just twice in its history, the Wildcats may not carry the prestige of some of the institutions that surround them in the Big Ten. Led by Chris Collins and a few veterans, though, perhaps Northwestern can make some noise come spring.

It should prove a thrilling contest. Here’s what you need to know about the two rosters as they prepare for a duel underneath the bright lights.

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FAU vs. Northwestern odds

FAU and Northwestern will face off with one another Friday, March 22 from Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Florida Atlantic opened as the betting favorite, according to BetMGM.

Below are details of the game, including betting odds, time, TV and venue.

  • Odds: Florida Atlantic -1.5
  • Date: Friday, March 22
  • Time: 12:15 pm ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Arena: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

FAU (25-8, 14-4 American)

Florida Atlantic returns to the promised land of the tournament, a year after enjoying its greatest-ever foray into the competition.

Dusty May’s side hasn’t shown the same brutal efficiency it did in 2022-23, falling short of a conference title after suffering defeat to North Texas in the AAC tournament final.

However, the Owls are teeming with talent. And despite some mystifying losses to lesser opposition, Florida Atlantic certainly has the pedigree to make a deep run in the tournament.

FAU captured impressive victories over top-12 opposition in Arizona (then No. 4) and Texas A&M (then No. 12).

They weren’t immune to inconsistency, falling three times to teams in Quads 3 and 4, a gaudy total. To that end, perhaps an eight-seed was a tad too low for a team that took home a nine-seed with one of the nation’s best teams last season.

Nevertheless, Florida Atlantic has the firepower to make magic happen.

  • NET ranking: 39
  • KenPom ranking: 41
  • Quad 1 record: 2-2
  • Quad 2 record: 8-3
  • Quad 3 record: 8-1
  • Quad 4 record: 7-2
  • Offensive efficiency ranking: 16
  • Defensive efficiency ranking: 109

Key players

Johnell Davis, G, Jun. (6-4, 203): 18.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.0 apg

Alijah Martin, G, Jun. (6-2, 210); 13.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.6 apg

Vladislav Goldin, C, Jun. (7-1, 240): 15.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.7 apg

Nicholas Boyd, G, Soph. (6-3, 175): 9.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg

Brandon Weatherspoon, G, Sr. (6-4, 186): 7.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.5 apg

PRINTABLE: Download a 2024 March Madness bracket here

Northwestern (21-11, 12-8 Big Ten)

The Wildcats enter the tournament looking the more balanced of the two sides. Chris Collins’ side isn’t necessarily remarkable. It is, however, a veteran-laden squad that found decent success in the smoldering rubble that is Big Ten conference play.

Led by senior guard Boo Buie, Northwestern reeled off a solid, if unspectacular regular season, defeating 12 of the 20 in-conference foes it faced over the course of the year. That slate was spearheaded by duels with ranked opposition Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Ultimately, the Wildcats went 2-4 against ranked foes. They handed then-No. 1 Purdue its first loss and captured a big win against future Big Ten champs Illinois. But they also suffered a 30-point defeat to the Illini away from home.

Northwestern enters tournament play in a speckled bit of form. The Wildcats have dropped four of their last eight games. Outside of a defeat to Rutgers, however, none of those failures were particularly egregious.

Still, it’s hard to gauge just how competitive Northwestern could be come tournament time. The Big Ten flatters to deceive during the Big Dance, its slow-paced play and lack of athleticism often proving fatal against swashbuckling, upset-minded opposition. Florida Atlantic has one of the best offenses in the nation, even-handed in the paint and beyond the arc. That might prove a little daunting for those hoping to see the Wildcats go far.

Styles make fights. Ultimately, Northwestern’s penchant for plodding play could be a deterrent against the high-powered Owls offense. Even if the Wildcats possess an explosive attack of their own.

  • NET ranking: 53
  • KenPom ranking: 46
  • Quad 1 record: 4-7
  • Quad 2 record: 5-3
  • Quad 3 record: 5-0
  • Quad 4 record: 7-1
  • Offensive efficiency ranking: 30
  • Defensive efficiency ranking: 72

Key players

Boo Buie, G, Sr. (6-2, 180): 19.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.1 apg

Brooks Barnhizer, G, Jun. (6-6, 215); 14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.7 apg

Ryan Langborg, G, Sr. (6-4, 186): 12.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.6 apg

Ty Berry, G, Sr. (6-2, 190): 11.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.4 apg

Nick Martinelli, F, Soph. (6-7, 200): 9.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.0 apg

HISTORY OF UPSETS BY SEED:
16 vs. 115 vs. 2 | 14 vs. 3 | 13 vs. 4 | 12 vs. 5

FAU vs. Northwestern prediction

This matchup certainly feels like a toss-up given the two sides and their eerily similar roster constructions.

Both teams are filled to the brim with veteran leadership. The Owls have been locked in big games in the past. By and large, they tended to respond with vigor; an overtime victory over Arizona this season proved as much. But they were far more inconsistent than was the case back in 2022-23, when they operated like a buzzsaw and blew teams away.

Johnell Davis is the standout name on FAU’s roster. It’s for good reason: He was among the country’s best players when the lights were at their brightest during last season’s tournament. And he’s proven even more efficient this time around, knocking down nearly 43 percent of his threes while stepping into a starting role full-time.

He’s not the Owls’ only star, though. Vladislav Goldin has taken a real step in his junior season, becoming one of the AAC’s toughest guards in the block. His deft footwork and sumptuous touch could make life hard for the Wildcats’ post defenders.

Northwestern isn’t lacking in shot-making prowess, possessing the dynamic trio of Boo Buie, Brooks Barnhizer and Ryan Langborg, who accounted for more than half of Northwestern’s averaging scoring in 2023-24.

The Wildcats’ defensive foibles could be a problem, though. The Owls aren’t any better, admittedly (in fact, they’re a whole lot worse). But with neither side being particularly known for its stout defense, it’s hard to pick anyone other than the explosive offense of Florida Atlantic. May’s team has both the experience and the potential to explode upon anyone. For all of Northwestern’s plaudits, it’s hard to imagine a world in which the Wildcats blatantly stop Davis, Goldin and Co. from getting to their spots at will.

History of 8 vs. 9 seeds in NCAA Tournament

Matchups between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds are as hard to predict as they come. Last season was another example of such a phenomena, with No. 8 seeds picking up two wins and No. 9 seeds capturing two more. Interestingly enough, one of those No. 9 seeds was FAU, who edged past an upstart Memphis side fueled by Davis.

Expect Friday’s clash to be a close one between FAU and Northwestern, one in which both sides may struggle to defend. The Owls are probably the hotter of the two teams at the moment, although the Wildcats have faced off against higher-level competition than their opposition over the past season.

Below is a breakdown of the wins 9-seeds have enjoyed over 8-seeds over the last 10 tournaments.

Year Result
2023 Auburn 83, Iowa 75
2023 Florida Atlantic 92, Memphis 84
2022 Memphis 64, Boise State 53
2022 TCU 69, Seton Hall 42
2022 Creighton 72, San Diego State 69
2021 Wisconsin 85, UNC 62
2019 UCF 73, VCU 58
2019 Baylor 78, Syracuse 69
2019 Oklahoma 95, Ole Miss 72
2019 Washington 78, Utah State 61
2018 Alabama 86, Virginia Tech 83
2018 Kansas State 69, Creighton 59
2018 Florida State 67, Missouri 54
2017 Michigan State 78, Miami 58
2016 Butler 71, Texas Tech 61
2016 Providence 70, USC 69
2016 UConn 74, Colorado 67
2014 Pittsburgh 77, Colorado 48
2013 Temple 76, NC State 72
2013 Wichita State 73, Pittsburgh 55
2012 Saint Louis 61, Memphis 54
2011 Illinois 73, UNLV 62

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