The men’s basketball team at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a private commuter school in Teaneck, NJ, went 4-22 last season. Three of its best players and its coach competed in Division II. And the Knights, who play in the Northeast Conference, haven’t even won their conference tournament, the title they usually need to make the NCAA tournament.
Still, Fairleigh Dickinson became just the second No. 16 seed in the men’s tournament with a 63-58 win over Purdue in the first round on Friday. (In 2018, top-seeded Virginia lost to the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. In women’s competition, 16th-seeded Harvard beat No. 1 Stanford in 1998.)
“I love our guys — they’re tough, they’re scrappy, they play their tails off,” Fairleigh Dickinson’s first-year coach Tobin Anderson said after the win. “It was unbelievable. We shocked the world and it couldn’t have happened to a great bunch of guys, great fans, my family, the whole thing.
So, who are these people and how big a deal is this?
This year’s team is relatively new.
After nine years at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkle, NY, Anderson was hired by Fairleigh Dickinson, a Division II team in Teaneck, NJ with fewer than 8,000 students.
Anderson replaces Greg Herenda, who was fired after a four-win season in which FDU finished ninth in the Northeast Conference. Anderson brought three of his players with him to Fairleigh Dickinson: guards Demetrius Roberts and Grant Singleton and forward Sean Moore, who scored 19 points against Purdue on Friday night in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
“Man, I felt amazing because I really didn’t think we’d be here this season,” said Moore, who hit a huge straight-up 3-pointer to give his team a 61-56 lead. One more minute.
The 6-foot-4 Moore, 5-foot-8 Roberts (from Mount Vernon, NY) and 5-9 Singleton (from Sumter, SC) are no strangers to March Madness. Under Anderson, St. Thomas Aquinas won three straight East Coast Conference Tournaments and made three Round of 16 appearances in the Division II NCAA Men’s Tournament.
Roberts believes the trio made a statement this season about the quality of players coming from Division II.
“I don’t really see the difference between DII and DI,” he said earlier this month.
Fairleigh Dickinson was the only one to field as another team was ineligible.
The Knights may not be in the NCAA Tournament this year due to Merrimack College’s ineligibility. Merrimack defeated FDU 67-66 at home to win the Northeast Conference championship game, but is ineligible for the tournament as it is in its fourth year from Division II to Division I.
The transition period is a common but sometimes tense issue in college athletics, when universities agree to suspend in-season play as they build their facilities and other infrastructure to comply with the requirements of their new division.
“I believe that moving forward, something is done in the best interest of the kids, because what you’re doing for four years, you’re taking a kid’s whole life out of the equation,” Merrimack coach Joe Gallo said. until the conference title game.
Merrimack finished its season on a 14-game winning streak.
This upset may have been foreshadowed by another Purdue upset last year.
Could Fairleigh Dickinson be the next St. Peter’s? Its players certainly believe that, and Purdue probably thinks so. The Boilermakers were upset a year ago when little St. Peters was eliminated in the round of 16 from Jersey City, NJ.
Now, a year later, two other Jersey underdogs — the no. 15 seed Princeton and no. 16 seed FDU – has three combined NCAA Tournament wins. and Fairleigh Dickinson is 13 miles from St. Peters.
However, Fairleigh Dickinson has a long way to go to match the full competition that St Peter’s hosts. The team reached the 8th round last season before being eliminated by North Carolina.
The Knights are among several mid-major programs that often like to test themselves against big schools. FDU lost to Loyola-Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Peter’s this season, but beat St. Joseph of the Atlantic 10 Conference and Columbia of the Ivy League.
The last No. 16 upset over No. 1 was five years ago.
That game, the University of Maryland’s Baltimore County win over Virginia in 2018, the tournament’s overall ranking, was a far cry from Friday night’s win over Fairleigh Dickinson.
Essentially it was a complete loss, 74-54. Much of the second half was a celebration for the Retrievers as they ran up and down the court.
Back then, UMPC’s social media team was famous for their witty banter, Especially on Twitter. It ended Friday night’s upset with a memorable moment from “The Simpsons.”
A footnote: UMBC lost that matchup to Kansas State in its second round game.
Instantly, it’s the saddest of all time on March Madness.
Of course, these things can be subjective, but there’s an argument to be made that Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over Purdue could rank as the biggest upset in the history of the tournament. Unlike UMBC in 2018, FDU is undefeated in its conference competition, and it exits the top four needing a win to advance to the Round of 64.
UMBC closed out the win against Virginia by a huge margin, but it was a 20-point deficit. Fairleigh Dickinson had 23 points for Purdue.
The Knights are the shortest team in Division 1 — with an average height of 6-foot-1 — ranking 363rd out of 363 teams, according to KenPom.com. Purdue featured 7-foot-4 Zach Eddy, a contender for national player of the year.
What’s next for Fairleigh Dickinson?
The Knights will face 9th-ranked Florida Atlantic on Sunday.
Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said: “I know they’re playing really hard and they’re confident. “It’s going to be a great game.”