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Who is Fairleigh Dickinson, the No. 16 seed who beat Purdue?

The men’s basketball team at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a private suburban school with a campus in Teaneck, NJ, went 4-22 last season. Three of its best players and its coach played in Division II. And the Knights, playing in the Northeast Conference, didn’t even win their conference tournament, a title they would normally need to enter the NCAA tournament.

And yet, Fairleigh Dickinson became just the second No. 16 seed to overturn a 1 in the men’s tournament, knocking out Purdue, 63-58, in the first round on Friday. (In 2018, top-seeded Virginia lost to the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. In the women’s tournament, No. 16 seed Harvard beat No. 1 Stanford in 1998.)

“I love our guys – they’re tough, they’re brave, they play hard,” Fairleigh Dickinson freshman coach Tobin Anderson said after the win. “It’s amazing. We just shocked the world, and it couldn’t have happened to a better group of guys, a better group of fans, my family, all of it.

So who are these guys, and how important is it?

After nine years at St. Thomas Aquinas College, a Division II team in Sparkill, NY, Anderson was hired at Fairleigh Dickinson, a school of fewer than 8,000 students in Teaneck, NJ (fun fact, the universities are both in west of the Hudson River.)

Anderson replaced Greg Herenda, who was let go after a four-win season in which FDU finished ninth in the Northeastern Conference. Anderson brought three of his players with him to Fairleigh Dickinson: guards Demetre Roberts and Grant Singleton and forward Sean Moore, who had 19 points against Purdue while playing Friday night in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

“Man, I felt amazing because I didn’t really think we were going to be here at this point in the season,” said Moore, who hit a massive 3-pointer right away to give his team a 61-point lead. -56 with just over a minute remaining.

The 6-foot-4 Moore, 5-foot-8 Roberts (of Mount Vernon, NY) and 5-9 Singleton (of Sumter, SC) are no strangers to March Madness. Under Anderson, St. Thomas Aquinas won three consecutive East Coast Conference tournaments and made the Round of 16 three straight in the NCAA Men’s Division II Tournament.

Roberts believes the three have made a statement this season about the quality of Division II players.

“I don’t really see a difference between DII and DI,” he said earlier this month.

The Knights might not even make the NCAA Tournament this year were it not for Merrimack College’s ineligibility. Merrimack beat FDU at home, 67-66, to win the Northeast Conference championship game, but cannot play in the tournament as he is in the fourth year of a transition from Division II to the Division I.

The transition period is a common but sometimes tense issue in college athletics, with universities agreeing to suspend postseason games while they build their facilities and other infrastructure to meet the demands of their new division.

“I hope to move forward for the sake of the kids, something is being done about it because for four years what you do is you take a kid’s whole career out of the equation‌ “said Merrimack coach Joe Gallo in the lead. until the conference title game.

Merrimack finished his season on a 14-game winning streak.

Could Fairleigh Dickinson be the next St. Peter’s? His players hope so, and Purdue might think so. The Boilermakers were upset with little St. Peter’s of Jersey City, NJ, in the Round of 16 a year ago.

Now, a year later, two other Jersey underdogs — No. 15 seed Princeton and No. 16 seed FDU — have three combined NCAA Tournament wins. And Fairleigh Dickinson is just 13 miles from St. Peter’s.

Fairleigh Dickinson still has a long way to go to match the entire tournament hosted by St. Peter’s. This team last season reached the round of 16 before being stopped by North Carolina.

The Knights are one of many mid-major programs that like to test themselves frequently against bigger schools. FDU this season lost to Loyola-Chicago, Pittsburgh and St. Peter’s, but beat St. Joseph’s of the Atlantic 10 Conference and Columbia of the Ivy League.

That game, when the University of Maryland in Baltimore County beat Virginia in 2018, the tournament’s first seed, was very, very different from Fairleigh Dickinson’s win on Friday night.

Mainly because it was a total rout, 74-54. Much of the second half was celebration for the Retrievers, who walked onto the pitch knowing they were barely challenged.

At the time, UMBC’s social media team gained notoriety for their witty banter, especially on Twitter. And it punctuated Friday night’s upheaval with a memorable moment from “The Simpsons.”

A footnote: UMBC lost its second round game of this tournament to Kansas State.

Of course, these things can be subjective, but there is an argument that Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over Purdue could be considered the biggest upset in tournament history. Unlike UMBC in 2018, FDU did not win its conference tournament, and it came out of the First Four, the playoff games that require a win to advance to the Round of 16.

UMBC ended their win over Virginia by a much larger margin, but they had been a 20-point underdog. Fairleigh Dickinson was a 23-point underdog for Purdue.

The Knights are also the shortest team in Division 1 — with an average height of 6-foot-1, according to KenPom.com — ranking 363rd out of 363 teams. Purdue introduced Zach Edey, 7-foot-4, a contender for National Player of the Year honors.

The Knights will face No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic on Sunday.

“I know they’re playing hard and believing,” Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said. “It’s going to be a great game.”

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