UMBC no longer stands alone.
Fairleigh Dickinson became the second 16-seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to upset a 1-seed, taking out Purdue 63-58 on Friday night.
Until five years ago, this scenario was uncharted territory. The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but it wasn’t until UMBC shocked No. 1 overall seed Virginia on the second night of the first round in 2018 that a 16-seed could claim a win on this stage.
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UMBC’s win seemed incredibly unlikely. Fairleigh Dickinson’s was arguably in another stratosphere. Here’s what you need to know about how FDU stacks up against UMBC, and why the Knights’ upset of Purdue is a new level of stunning.
2023 Fairleigh Dickinson record vs. 2018 UMBC record
UMBC entered the 2018 NCAA Tournament 24-10 overall. It finished 12-4 in the America East Conference.
Fairleigh Dickinson entered this year’s tournament 19-15 and finished 10-6 in the Northeast Conference, which ranks as KenPom’s worst conference this season.
Both the Retrievers and Knights finished second in their conference. UMBC won its conference tournament, but FDU lost to the first-place team in its final. It took an NCAA rule for FDU to reach the NCAA Tournament.
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In non-conference play, Fairleigh Dickinson lost to Longwood, SIU Edwardsville, Saint Peter’s, Hartford and Queens. Conference play included losses to Sacred Heart, Stonehill, Wagner, Central Connecticut State and St. Francis (Pa.).
Last season, FDU went 4-22 and ranked as KenPom’s 345th team out of 358.
None of that mattered Friday night at the NCAA Tournament. The Knights had a clean slate, and they earned the one win that will outshine all 15 of their losses and then some.
Fairleigh Dickinson metrics vs. UMBC metrics
On the metrics alone, FDU’s upset was much more unlikely than UMBC’s. The Retrievers entered their matchup with Virginia 188th in KenPom rankings. FDU entered Friday night ranked 298th.
KenPom also ranks Fairleigh Dickinson last in the nation in effective height, with Purdue at the top. That the Knights were able to beat a team with a dominant 7-4 center is one of the most remarkable stories in college basketball history.
FDU ranked 359th out of 363 teams in KenPom defensive efficiency, while UMBC was a top-150 team in defensive efficiency in 2018.
Fairleigh Dickinson Stats vs. UMBC Stats
|44.3||Field goal pct||45.6|
|64.6||Free throw pct||75.2|
|43.9||Opponent FG pct||47.7|
By the numbers, Fairleigh Dickinson was the superior offensive team in comparison to 2018 UMBC, but the Knights were much worse on the defensive end.
The offensive exception is 3-point percentage. UMBC shot much better from beyond the arc than FDU. That mattered against Virginia, when the Retrievers punished the Cavaliers with a barrage of 3-pointers.
Of course, this comparison isn’t linear. Fairleigh Dickinson played in KenPom’s lowest-rated conference in the nation this season, so the Knights’ numbers could have been worse in another league.
Under ordinary circumstances, Fairleigh Dickinson wouldn’t have even been in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Knights lost to Merrimack in the Northeast Conference title game but advanced because Merrimack was still completing its transition to Division I. The NCAA makes programs ineligible for the NCAA Tournament in their first four years after jumping to the highest level.
FDU defeated St. Francis (N.Y.) 83-75 in the NEC quarterfinals before rolling past St. Francis (Pa.) 70-50 in the semifinals. With little to play for in the title game, the Knights lost to Merrimack by a point, shooting just 12 of 21 from the free throw line and losing both the turnover and rebounding battle.
UMBC won the America East Tournament in 2018. The Retrievers won their first two games by double digits before outlasting conference powerhouse Vermont in the title game.
UMBC at least showed potential by taking down the top-seeded Catamounts on the road. While it seemed unreasonable to believe the Retrievers could take out the No. 1 overall seed, the thought of a team that couldn’t win the worst Division I conference knocking out a No. 1 seed is even more unfathomable. Or, it was.
UMBC cruised into the first round without playing in the First Four. Fairleigh Dickinson had to beat Texas Southern just to get to Columbus to face Purdue.
To be fair, that game wasn’t close. FDU steamrolled Texas Southern, scoring 45 first-half points and winning by 23.
Coach Tobin Anderson said after the game that he believed his team was well-equipped to beat Purdue, and it’s possible the Boilermakers should have taken him more seriously.
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Whose upset win was more impressive: FDU’s or UMBC’s?
FDU’s upset of Purdue might be more stunning, but UMBC’s upset of Virginia still might have a case for being the more impressive performance.
The Retrievers defeated a two-loss Cavaliers team with the nation’s best defense. Not only was it a win for UMBC, it was a 20-point blowout. It was unprecedented for any team to shoot the way the Retrievers did against Virginia.
On the other hand, FDU’s chances seemed beyond distant when considering the height difference against Purdue. The Knights ranked 359th out of 363 teams in KenPom defensive efficiency entering Friday, but they slowed down the consensus player of the year in Zach Edey.
Fairleigh Dickinson’s win also can’t be attributed to the luck of shot-making. The ball often bounced the Knights’ way, but they still only shot 30.4 percent from 3-point range. It took hard-nosed basketball for FDU to rise up and shock the world.
For future 16-seeds, UMBC and FDU have set the standard.