NCAA Tournament: Cinderella Lives in New Jersey


March 20

A pair of the unlikeliest Universities from New Jersey proved that, once again, the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend is about Cinderellas in what was a fun drama-filled if not always well-played four days of basketball.What I Learned: Anything Is Possible!

Princeton! Are you kidding me?

Watching the Tigers advance to the Sweet 16 brought back memories of Princeton’s bid to become the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 when they fell one-point short to Alonzo Mourning and the Georgetown Hoyas. That 50-49 first-round defeat was a hint that anything is possible.

This year’s Princeton solidified that idea with their win over No. 7 Missouri to advance to the Sweet 16 and back up their historic upset of No. 2 Arizona on the tournament’s opening day.

Legendary Pete Carril was the coach who put a scare into John Thompson’s team. Current headman Mitch Henderson was part of Carril’s 1995-96 squad, the Hall of Fame coach’s last season at the Ivy school, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s second round.

That was the furthest Carril ever took the Tigers. The student has surpassed the teacher as Princeton is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967.

Question: Is There Something in the Water?

Last year it was No. 15 seed St. Peter’s, out of Jersey City, New Jersey, who stole everyone’s heart with their upset wins over Kentucky, Murray State, and Purdue, all the way to the Elite Eight. The Peacocks were the tenth 15-seed to pull off the upset over a 2-seed.

Princeton, located in Princeton, New Jersey, was the 11th, making it three straight years. While the 15-over-2 may be becoming a trend, there was still just one 16-over-1 upset in NCAA Tournament history…until Friday night when Fairleigh Dickinson University did the unthinkable!

The Knights upset No. 1 seed Purdue and presumptive National Player of the Year Zack Edey. Where is FDU located? You guessed it, New Jersey—specifically, Hackensack, which is about a 30-minute drive from St. Peter’s.

I immediately received a text from my buddy, “Jersey represent again! 15, 16… we got any 17 seeds?” That was followed by another friend’s “I guess there’s something in the water” message.

FDU might be the most-improbable of all the upsets. For starters, they should not even be in the NCAA Tournament. As great of a story as they are, the Knights lost the Northeast Conference Tournament Championship Game to Merrimack.

Because of a dumb NCAA rule which states schools cannot qualify for the tournament in their first four seasons as a Division I program, the Warriors were not eligible for the Big Dance. 

“To quote my 6-year-old, ‘Dad, we beat them, so we want them to win,’” Merrimack coach Joe Gallo texted CBS Sports. “People have also been tough on our league all year, so I’m happy for the win.”

While Merrimack was ineligible, Division II was represented, even in defeat to Florida Atlantic in the second round.

FDU’s two leading scorers, Demetre Roberts, and Grant Singleton spent the past four seasons at St. Thomas Aquinas and followed Tobin Anderson from STAC.

If you’re a No. 1 or 2 seed in next year’s NCAA Tournament, I would be very concerned if you find Monmouth, NJIT, or Rider as your first-round matchup! If you F around with these upstart Jersey schools, you will find out.

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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