NCAA Tournament: 5 wild facts Fairleigh Dickinson’s shocking upset over Purdue

Fairleigh Dickinson didn’t even win their conference tournament, but after a play-in victory they stunned Purdue for the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The 2023 NCAA Tournament gave us the biggest first round upset in history when Fairleigh Dickinson, a play-in 16 seed who didn’t even win their conference tournament, upset number one seed Purdue on Friday, 63-58.

It was a disaster performance from Matt Painter’s squad, who didn’t score in the final five minutes and couldn’t get good looks for their star center, Zach Edey.

The Knights will now face Florida Atlantic on Sunday and the winner will advance to the Sweet 16 – proving once again just how much madness their is in March.

Locked on College Basketball hosts Andy Patton and Isaac Schade broke down this monumental upset on the latest episode, discussing a few of the nearly unbelievable facts about this matchup and performance from the Knights:

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Fact 1: An outdated NCAA rule is the only reason FDU was in the tournament

The NCAA currently has a rule which prevents teams who transition from D-2 to D-1 from competing in a championship tournament for their first four years. The rule exists to prevent schools from jumping back and forth, but it has come under fire as a lot of programs have moved up a level, competed well, and been ineligible to play in the playoffs – hurting the school’s recruiting in the process.

For Fairleigh Dickinson, they finished third in the NEC during the regular season, but because the conference winner Merrimack was ineligible for the postseason the Knights earned the automatic bid – and the rest is history.

Fact 2: FDU was clearly viewed as the worst team in the Field of 68

This upset will forever draw comparisons to UMBC, who upset Virginia in 2018 for the first 16-1 win in tournament history. However, UMBC was a far superior team – making this the biggest upset of all-time, at least in the NCAA Tournament first round.

UMBC did not have to play in to their 16 seed, and while their upset was incredible they were ranked number 188 in KenPom. Meanwhile, FDU was number 312 in KenPom, and had to play in the play-in game and beat Texas Southern in order to have the opportunity to face Purdue. 

When the committee sat down to order the teams, the Knights were immediately listed as the 68th and final team in the field – and yet they pulled off one of the most memorable victories in tournament history.

Fact 3: This matchup featured the tallest and shortest teams in the NCAA – a literal David vs. Goliath

The Knights own the shortest roster in Division 1 basketball, with an average height of just 6-foot-1. Meanwhile, Purdue’s average height is the highest in the NCAA – setting up one of the most unique matchups in tournament history. FDU’s strategy to triple and even quadruple team Zach Edey – Purdue’s 7’4 National Player of the Year candidate – paid dividends throughout as the Boilermakers were unable to hit open shots.

Edey had a fantastic game, scoring 21 points on 7-11 shooting, but no one stepped up around him and the Knights took advantage and stole a victory.

Fact 4: FDU coach Tobin Anderson prophesized this upset back in January

Back on January 31, Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson spoke with David Cobb about a hypothetical matchup against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. Anderson mentioned they would triple the post and indicated he believed his team could do it. 

Then, following their win over Texas Southern, Anderson told his team in the locker room they loved the matchup against Purdue and felt they would win. While he admitted he didn’t want that conversation to get leaked – he was absolutely right.

Fact 5: New Jersey is the home of massive upsets

The darling of the 2022 NCAA Tournament was Saint Peter’s, a plucky school from New Jersey who not only upset number two seed Kentucky, but went on a deep run into the Sweet 16.

On the first day of the 2023 NCAA Tournament Princeton, the winner of the Ivy League auto-bid, upset Arizona in an epic 15-2 battle.

And then on Friday we saw this record breaking win from Fairleigh Dickinson. All of these programs not only pulled off three of the biggest NCAA Tournament upsets ever – they are all located in New Jersey, about an hour drive from each other.

No Rutgers and no Seton Hall in the Big Dance this year, but the state of New Jersey has something else to hang their hat on: the underdogs.

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