As they say in college basketball, anything is possible. The Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson University are shining examples; the slipper fit on Friday night, as America’s newest Cinderella defeated the Big Ten champion and number 1 seed in the East Region Purdue in a historic 63-58 win. Only once before had a 16 seed ever won against a 1 seed (UMBC over Virginia in 2018), and the New Jersey school is more than an outlier for being one of the two to have done it.
But this victory was in a class of its own in a couple of ways.
First, FDU wasn’t even technically supposed to be in the Big Dance. They made it in as an automatic qualifier from the Northeast Conference…even though they weren’t this year’s Northeast Conference champions. They lost the NEC title game to Merrimack, but Merrimack is still transitioning to be a full Division I school; as runner-up, the Knights secured the bid in March that goes to all conference champions. They participated in the “First Four” slate of games as a 16 seed and won to enter the Round of 64 proper, where they faced Purdue.
Second, FDU was the shortest team in the nation and Purdue was the tallest team, according to KenPom. The Knights’ tallest starter is 6-foot-6, and they regularly play two players 5-foot-9 or shorter. Contrast that to Purdue, with their star 7’4 center Zach Edey. And while Edey did have 21 points and 15 rebounds against Fairleigh Dickinson, he could have easily scored a lot more and really should have considering the size disparity. FDU prevented Edey from scoring for the final 9 minutes of play, which is a feat no other opponent of the Boilermakers can boast.
And third, this was technically the largest upset in the history of March Madness going by odds. The Knights were 23.5-point underdogs against the Boilermakers; that’s the largest spread for an upset victory in NCAA Tournament history dating back to 1978, according to BetMGM’s John Ewing. UMBC was only a -20.5 underdog when they faced Virginia in 2018. Purdue spent a long stretch of this season as the top team in the AP Top 25 and had a player in Edey who proved unstoppable inside and outside of Big Ten play. But in March, it’s a different story.
The Knights play in the Round of 32 on Sunday versus Florida Atlantic University at 7:45 PM.
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