NCAA Tournament SDSU Final Four
San Diego State puts in the work at a closed practice Thursday in Houston. Photo credit: @jdwicker via Twitter

San Diego State will face Florida Atlantic in the men’s Final Four Saturday in the biggest sporting event in both schools’ histories.

The Aztecs had never advanced past the Sweet 16 in their 14 tournament appearances before this year. The closest San Diego State has gotten to a national championship in college football since rising to the predecessor of Division I, the University Division, in 1969 was a No. 16 ranking in The Associated Press poll in 1977.

The school’s lone NCAA Division I championship came in men’s volleyball in 1973. San Diego State dropped the sport in 2001. The Aztecs reached the final of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament in 1987, losing to Clemson, 2-0.

The Owls made one NCAA tournament appearance before this season, losing a 2002 first-round game to Alabama, 86-78. Florida Atlantic is the first team to reach the Final Four after never winning a tournament game in previous seasons since George Mason in 2006.

The Boca Raton-based university was founded in 1961, opened in 1964, began its basketball program in 1988 on the Division II level and moved to Division I in 1994.

San Diego State (31-6) was seeded fifth in the South Region and 17th overall in the field of 68. The Aztecs defeated College of Charleston, the 47th overall seed, 63-57, in the first round; Furman, the 53th overall seed, 75-52, in the second round; Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed, 71-64, in the Sweet 16, and Creighton, the 22nd overall seed, 57-56.

Florida Atlantic (35-3) was seeded ninth in the East Region and 33rd overall. The Owls defeated Memphis, the 29th overall seed, 66-65, in the first round; Fairleigh Dickinson, the 68th overall seed, 78-70, in the second round; Tennessee, the 14th overall seed, 62-55, in the Sweet 16, and Kansas State, the 11th overall seed, 79-76, in the Elite 8.

“They’re talented,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said of the Owls, who have the nation’s best winning percentage, .921, and have won 11 consecutive games. “They shoot the ball at an elite level. We can’t let them stand out there and make a ton of threes. And if they do, they have to be contested. We can’t do anything about a contested three. If we’re out there with a high hand and it goes in, you tip your hat.

“They do a good job giving enough help in the low post, shrinking in there if you try to beat them inside, send a second defender in there halfway, and if you put it down, maybe all the way. They’re well-coached and they’re disciplined on the defensive end,” Dutcher said.

Oddsmakers have made the Aztecs a 2 1/2-point favorite. The ABC News- owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight gives San Diego State a 62% chance of winning. It had given the Aztecs a 46% chance of defeating Creighton.

The 3:09 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time game from NRG Stadium in Houston will be televised by CBS. A free viewing party will be held at Viejas Arena with doors opening at 2 p.m. Tickets are not required. The arena’s clear bag policy will be strictly enforced. Limited concessions will be available.

Parking will be available in Structure 7 for $3 per hour.

The San Diego State-Florida Atlantic winner will face the Connecticut- Miami winner for the national championship Monday. The Owls are seeking to be the first team to reach the championship after never winning a tournament game in previous seasons since the Larry Bird-led Indiana State team in 1979.

–City News Service