Breaking Down FDU’s Unprecedented Upset – The Greatest in March Madness History

Photo: Paul Vernon

I didn’t think much of it back in October when friends asked my wife and I if we wanted to attend a Muse concert at Madison Square Garden on St. Patrick’s Day. Cool, I thought, without giving the NCAA tournament much of a thought. After our run of seeing Rage Against The Machine, The Killers and Arcade Fire in 2022, adding Muse to the concert list would be fun!

Well, that’s my bad. Thankfully with the help of my IPhone and Youtube TV account, I was able to catch the last 5 minutes of Fairleigh Dickinson’s improbable and historic upset, even if my wife glanced over a couple of times as my two friends and I hunched over a cell phone during a sold out concert at the world’s most famous arena.

The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights gave my friends and the nation all the feels on Friday night, becoming only the second number-16 seed to dispatch a number-1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Going in, 16 seeds were 1-150 in such matchups, yet FDU remarkably kept it close with the Big 10 regular season and tournament champion before shutting down the Boilermakers in the closing minutes. Tobin Anderson called his shot after FDU’s dominant First Four victory over Texas Southern!

The Knights were clearly unafraid of the big moment, refusing to succumb anytime Purdue made a run. The Boilermakers posted 2 “kill shot” 11-0 runs during the contest – one in each half – yet FDU never allowed Purdue to extend their advantage past 5 points in either situation. It was a masterpiece that will go down as the greatest win in Northeast Conference history after KenPom pegged Purdue as a 98% favorite going in. Now, the Knights are still alive as they embark on a second round NCAA tournament matchup with Florida Atlantic on Sunday night at 7:45 PM. 

While much has been written about FDU’s triumph over Purdue, and deservedly so, allow me to break down how exactly the Knights pulled off the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. How was Anderson and his coaching staff able to craft a near perfect game plan and will the Knights to a Bart Torvik Game Score of 96?

FDU is Finally Defending

Photo: Paul Vernon

I’ll admit I was skeptical of FDU’s viability in February and March because of their inability to defend. At one point in mid February, the Knights possessed the first or second worst defensive efficiency in the country and that was despite forcing opponent turnovers at a near elite rate. On Friday night, the Knights effectively did both – they forced 16 Purdue turnovers (on just 64 possessions) while holding the much bigger Boilermakers to 0.91 points per possession (ppp). 

The defensive output wasn’t an isolated performance. Over the past 4 games, FDU has given up just 0.92 ppp while holding opponents to a paltry 17% from deep, with both statistics encompassing the Knights’ best defensive stretch of the season. Some of that depressed 3PT percentage is rooted in luck, yet credit is due to FDU for speeding up Purdue’s playmakers and making life as chaotic as possible in the half court. 

There were some open looks that Purdue missed for sure – Synergy estimates that Purdue missed 14 clean looks from behind the arc – yet this buys into the notion that the moment was too big for the Boilermaker players and not for FDU, the shortest team in Division I basketball. 

Back to FDU’s defensive prowess: the 7’4” Zach Edey may have logged an impressive 21 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks, yet arguably the best post presence in the country didn’t attempt a single field goal in the final 8 minutes of the contest. Thanks to a series of doubling and fronting the post, Edey barely touched the ball in the closing minutes. That was a testament to FDU’s speed and savvy in making sure the Purdue center never got comfortable in the low block. 

Edey’s disappearance down the stretch and FDU’s facilitation of that was impressive in its own right, but also consider that FDU held Purdue players not named Zach Edey to a 28.6% shooting percentage. It took awhile, but Anderson’s group has really leveraged their speed, quickness and length to inflict chaos on the floor. 

Sean Moore Has Arrived

Photo: Paul Vernon

In October I offered a bold prediction where I theorized that Demetre Roberts, Grant Singleton and Sean Moore would all emerge in Tobin Anderson’s rotation as Division II transfers who would be top 10 players in the NEC by the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign. My prediction was somewhat right – Roberts and Singleton had fantastic seasons and earned all-conference first and second team honors, respectively. Moore didn’t make an all-conference team however, but make no mistake, the sophomore simply needed a little more time to adjust to the rigors of Division I basketball. I can say with confidence now that there aren’t 10 players in the league who are better than Sean Moore, as the athletic wing has made his presence felt on both ends of the floor. 

Moore’s defense has been there all season – he currently has the 104th best steal rate (3.2%) in the country and has collected 10 blocks over his past 8 contests – but of late the STAC transfer has been a revelation offensively. Let’s compare and contrast Moore’s first 7 games and last 7 games this season. It’s night and day, quite frankly. 

First 7 Games (FDU 2-5)7.0 ppg34.8%18.5%0.30
Last 7 Games (FDU 5-2)13.3 ppg59.1%40.7%1.83

Moore’s 3 to extend FDU’s lead to 5, 61-56, with a minute remaining was a kill shot in its own right, surging the Knights’ win probability from 47% to 76% with his top of the key triple. This is big time.

Then in the closing seconds, Moore’s defensive mastery came out as well!

FDU will lose Roberts and Singleton after the two veterans exhaust their eligibility when FDU’s magical run concludes this season, so expect Moore to become a centerpiece to the Knights’ offense in the years to come. He is that good and showing his true colors when the lights shine brightest. 

FDU Won the Turnover Margin Battle, Again

It’s one of Anderson’s most important stats, turnover margin. Take care of the basketball and extract live ball turnovers and you’ll win most of your contests. On Friday, the Knights did just that by bettering the Boilermakers by +8 in turnover margin and posting a +10 margin on points forced off turnovers (15-5).

For the season, FDU has the 32nd best defensive turnover rate nationally at 21.5%. Couple that with the 61st offensive turnover rate at 16.4% and the Knights have one of the best percentage differences in turnover rate across the Division I landscape. FDU is now 7-3 on the season when they extract a turnover on at least 25% of the opponent’s possessions. Their turnover rate versus Purdue on Friday night was… 25%!

Regardless of the Knights’ outcome on Sunday night versus Florida Atlantic, it’s been a wonderful season for Anderson and his Knights. Take a deep breath, buy some merch (see below!), and we’ll see you on Twitter on Sunday night as the nation roots for the FDU Knights to make history once again. I promise I won’t be at a concert this time around.

Bold Predictions for the 2022-23 Northeast Conference Men’s Hoops Season

The 2022-23 season is almost upon us! And I’m back to bring you #NECMBB content on the NEC Overtime! Blog.

One of my favorite writers is The Athletic contributor Eno Sarris. The baseball/fantasy baseball/craft beer scribe seamlessly blends analytics, his eyes and intel from other sources to tell an informed story. It’s what I strive to do every time I write a post! 

One of his annual columns I most enjoy is his MLB Bold Predictions piece in March. In there he’ll do his best to make an educated, albeit partly outlandish guess for where a player or team might finish. Sometimes he’s right (Logan Gilbert was the best pitcher on the Mariners), sometimes he’s close (Texas’ Nate Lowe finished 3 homers short of Sarris’ 30 HR prediction), and sometimes he – pardon the pun – swings and misses (Joey Votto did not come close to hitting 40 HRs). 

Forgive me as I try to copycat Sarris with my own bold predictions post for the 2022-23 Northeast Conference season. I’m basing my educated guesses on what the coaches have told me about their squads and underlying statistics/analytics. Here are five boldish predictions that, if things break right, have a respectable chance to come to fruition.

Sacred Heart’s Brendan McGuire Will Lead the League in Assists Per Game

When Sacred Heart lost scoring point guard Aaron Clarke to the transfer portal this spring, many wondered where Anthony Latina would go for his next floor general. There was no obvious replacement on the roster – Joey Reilly and redshirt freshman Dom Mello are best off-the-ball in my humble opinion – so Latina leveraged one of his strengths as a head coach: he recruited the transfer portal to identify talent that would immediately upgrade his roster. Enter Brendan McGuire, a somewhat atypical floor general given his 6-foot-7 forward-like frame. 

McGuire averaged 2.6 apg under Baker Dunleavy at Quinnipiac in three seasons, so why do I think the Long Island native can find another level as the main facilitator in Sacred Heart’s system? Given Latina’s insistence on re-establishing a faster tempo, McGuire will be asked to advance the ball at every opportunity and utilize his vision and playmaking skill in the open floor. Think about the Pioneer offense under freshman Cam Parker in 2018-19, or Pioneers all-time leading assist man Phil Gaetano in 2014-15. Both pass-first guards thrived offensively in Sacred Heart’s two fastest seasons (relative to DI) under Latina with a bevy of finishers/shooters to feed such as Evan Kelley, Cane Broome, Sean Hoehn and E.J. Anosike.

Point GuardYearTeam Possessions per GameTeam Offensive EfficiencyPlayer Assists per GamePlayer Assist Rate
Phil Gaetano2014-1568.5 (22nd DI)103.4 (3rd NEC)5.8 (1st NEC)30.9% (76th DI)
Cam Parker2018-1972.0 (23rd DI)104.2 (3rd NEC)6.9 (1st NEC)37.8% (11th DI)

With playmakers abound at Sacred Heart such as Nico Galette, Raheem Solomon, Aidan Carpenter and sharpshooter Mike Sixsmith, McGuire should not lack options to feed the ball to. He routinely posted assist rates in the mid 20s at Quinnipiac; it wasn’t his skill but rather his inconsistent playing time that ultimately limited his overall assist totals.

Herein lies my boldish part of the prediction – in order for McGuire to average the 5.0 – 6.0 apg likely needed to become the conference’s leader, he must stay healthy and log a career high in minutes. McGuire’s coming off a 2021-22 campaign where he missed 11 of the Bobcats’ 31 games, and that’s what reportedly has sapped the point forward’s full potential to this point. It’s a matter of good health, a 72+ possessions per game pace and a gut feeling that it will all come together for McGuire in year four of his collegiate career. With his move from the MAAC to the NEC, he also enters a conference plentiful with scoring point guards (Nigel Scantlebury, Demetre Roberts, DeLonnie Hunt, to name a few) who aren’t likely to put up an overwhelming volume of assists. Based on the league’s recent history, 5.0 apg could be the magic number for McGuire to become the league’s assist leader, and that number is possible based on what I’ve heard out of the Pioneer camp.

The Red Flash Will Regain Its Spot as the League’s Best Offense

We knew it was going to be hard for Rob Krimmel to replace his back-to-back NEC Player of the Year stalwarts in Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon after their graduation in 2020, but that was before a 100-year pandemic and plethora of injuries infected Krimmel’s roster over the past 2 seasons. The long-time coach has shuffled through 22 starting lineups since the fruitful 2019-20 campaign, greatly affecting SFU’s rotational consistency. It’s led to mediocre offensive performances:

SeasonPoints per GameAdjusted Offensive Efficiency3PT%FT%Unique Starting Lineups
2017-1879.0106.4 (1st NEC)37.177.28
2018-1976.3105.5 (2nd NEC)35.371.28
2019-2077.7107.6 (1st NEC)36.075.18
2020-21*68.994.7 (7th NEC)30.971.49
2021-2268.695.1 (7th NEC)31.564.513
*pandemic shortened season, only played 22 games

Talent always wins out, but it’s paramount to have good health and luck on your side too, and that’s been lacking in Loretto of late. During a productive four year stretch where the Red Flash made three NEC tournament finals from 2017-2020, the team’s stars routinely played at least 70% of SFU’s minutes (aka 28 minutes in every game). Red Flash players satisfied that minutes threshold 11 different times over that stretch, with the bulk of that met by all-conference first teamers Jamaal King, Braxton and Blackmon. Over the past two campaigns, junior guard Maxwell Land was the only player to cross the 70% minutes mark, achieving the feat once in 2021-22. 

Now with a healthy roster back along with reinforcements at the point guard position, Krimmel appears poised to get back to his bread and butter: efficient offensive basketball. The team’s shooting must vastly improve and return to the 35% 3PT/70% FT level during the program’s contender phase for this to happen. Several current players, in fact, have already illustrated their shotmaking prowess at one time or another in a Red Flash uniform. It simply needs to come together for one season with this collective group:

PlayerYearKenPom Offensive Rating3PT %FT %
Maxwell Land2020-2195.541.1%71.4%
Marlon Hargis2020-21125.541.7%81.2%
Myles Thompson2021-2298.538.7%63.9%
Brad McCabe2021-22111.841.3%80.0%

It’s fair to be optimistic about the Red Flash’s shooting if you assume the following: 1) mostly everyone will stay relatively healthy, 2) the guards/wings will continue to progress in year three of Krimmel’s system and 3) the players won’t be overburdened with too much on their plate given the program’s depth.

The last statement is particularly important, because if SFU can get a league average contribution at the point guard position from incoming freshmen Landon Moore and Cam Gregory and/or upperclassman Zahree Harrison, who’s considerably more trimmer this preseason, then the aforementioned veterans shouldn’t be tasked with more than they can handle on the basketball court.

“Some of it is just guys being in a position where they can play to their strengths,” Krimmel said at NEC Media Day in October. “When you have a roster that is depleted for different reasons, guys have to do on top of what they do really, really well.”

Quite simply: less is more. If every player can reduce their usage rate slightly and become more specialized toward their strengths, then the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. The program already boasts the league’s most efficient post presence in Josh Cohen (117.7 offensive rating, 57.7% 2PT), thus better playmaking and perimeter shooting could be what the doctor ordered for getting SFU back to being an elite and well balanced offensive unit once again.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s Trio of Division II Transfers Will All Land in the League’s Top 15

If you just look at the car without looking under the hood, I understand why FDU projects as a bottom third team in the conference to an algorithm. The Knights have a new coach, a roster with 8 new scholarship players, and are coming off a difficult campaign thanks to a defense that allowed 111.3 points per 100 possessions. The analytic sites such as KenPom, Bart Torvik, and others simply aren’t estimating the impact of the Knights incoming transfers, three of which come from Division II, hence the bearish projections.

For starters, Bart Torvik’s player replacement metric PORPAGATU! greatly devalues the Division II transfers in Demetre Roberts (0.3 in PORPAGATU!), Grant Singleton (0.3) and Sean Moore (0.3) despite their successes at St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC). Let’s use Roberts as my main example: the three-time East Coast Conference (ECC) first team selection is coming off an impressive senior season. Those gaudy numbers may not translate perfectly into NEC hoops, but even a modest downtick across the board produces far better than a 0.3 rating. Comparing his Division II numbers to another diminutive, yet speedy point in Jalen Benjamin tells the story:

Demetre Roberts2021-2216.
Jalen Benjamin2021-2213.

The overall speed shouldn’t be much different between the top half of the ECC (where STAC always resided under Anderson) and the NEC, but the effective height will play up. Given this, let’s assume Roberts’ 2022-23 numbers tick downward and possibly mirror Benjamin’s production at the Mount last season. Even still, Benjamin produced a 2.0 PORPAGATU! (t-13th NEC) in 2021-22, well above Roberts’ current projection at 0.3, which doesn’t make a ton of sense.

The same case could be applied to Singleton and Moore, with the latter offering more upside defensively. As a STAC freshman a year ago, the 6’4” forward anchored the front of Anderson’s full court press and earned two Defensive Player of the Week awards. His blend of athleticism, length, and instincts – a similar profile also possessed by returning junior Joe Munden, Jr. – could wreak havoc for some NEC backcourts, and allow Roberts, Singleton and others to hunt steals for easy buckets in transition. There’s nowhere to go but up for FDU in transition – last season the Knights were last league wide in effective field goal percentage during transition opportunities with a mark of 48.9%, according to Hoop Math. That number, along with a middling defensive turnover rate of 18.2% (185th DI), should be a lock to improve thanks to the STAC talent coming to Hackensack.

It also helps that Anderson isn’t a stranger to rebuilding quickly. Back in his inaugural season at STAC, Anderson inherited a downtrodden 5-win program and engineered an impressive 10-win turnaround in year one. I’m not guaranteeing the Knights will be victorious 14 times in 2022-23, but even a more modest win output could find FDU within title contention come February. If that’s the case, the trio of STAC transfers will have emerged as leading players within the conference.

Central Connecticut State Posts Its Best Offensive Output in a Decade

While FDU’s defense has a great opportunity to improve, the same could be said for Pat Sellers’ offensive unit. The Blue Devils last season struggled at times to score, failing to convert many of their inside the arc opportunities (42.6%, 353rd DI) while also struggling with turnovers during stretches (20.6% turnover rate, 310th DI). CCSU went 5-2 in games where they averaged more than 1.00 point per possession in a contest, and posted a 3-22 mark when scoring 1.00 ppp or less. The low hanging fruit for the squad in New Britain is the offense!

As you all know, Sellers enters his second season, which usually helps when it comes to improving offense with a rebuilding program. Take a look with how these NEC programs improved in their second year of rebuilding with a new head coach:

Team/New Head CoachFirst Year Adjusted ORtgSecond Year Adjusted ORtgDifference
SFU/Rob Krimmel93.496.4+3.0
Mount/Jamion Christian102.5107.8+5.3
SHU/Anthony Latina99.3103.4+4.1
CCSU/Donyell Marshall93.098.0+5.0
Mount/Dan Engelstad94.896.4+1.6
CCSU/Pat Sellers91.5??

If Sellers’ offense trends similarly, he can take solace in that Nigel Scantlebury and Andre Snoddy return. Scantlebury, a pick-and-roll dynamo who’ll make 3s off the catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble, illustrated his scoring moxie late last season, averaging 20.8 points buoyed by a stout 48.5% free throw rate in the last 5 games of the season. The next step is to improve upon his 49.8% mark near-the-rim, while also honing his shot selection to whittle down his mid-range 2-point attempts. Those progressions are reasonable for a fifth year guy entering his second year with Seller’s “space and pace” concepts. 

Snoddy has the opposite program – his penchant for scoring inside the paint would become even more potent with a complimentary perimeter game. It’s something the sophomore – a 6-time NEC Rookie of the Week honoree last season – has assiduously worked on this offseason. I would certainly bet on Snoddy topping his 26.7% 2 and 3-point jumper percentage as a freshman by a healthy margin.

Additionally this offseason, Sellers wisely recruited more scorers to feature alongside Scantlebury and Snoddy, with Binghamton wing Kellen Amos and JUCO transfer guard Jay Rodgers joining the fray. While the two returning stars have their demonstrated strengths, Amos and Rodgers offer versatility, potentially giving the Blue Devils a more well rounded team on the floor. Amos’ lanky frame poses mismatch problems at the wing, and his “3 and rim” prowess – he made 60% near-the-rim last season per Hoop Math – will surely help a Blue Devils’ team that made just 51.5% of their near-the-rim takes last season. Rodgers, on the other hand, isn’t shy about getting downhill and finishing in traffic, and that’s complemented by a 40.1% conversion rate from deep at Cochise College last season.

Throw in second year players Jayden Brown, Joe Ostrowski, Davonte Sweatman and the expected jump they’re capable of, and I’d be very surprised if CCSU stays the same from an offensive efficiency standpoint as KenPom suggests in 2022-23. Like Saint Francis University, I see big things ahead for CCSU’s offense to the point where they could exceed the Blue Devils’ best offensive output in a decade. That would require a 6.0 jump in adjusted offensive efficiency in order to top Howie’s Dickenman’s 2013-14 squad when they posted an adjusted offensive efficiency of 97.4. That’s a big jump (these are bold predictions after all!), but nevertheless you should buy stock now on Seller’s offense. 

Rahmir Moore Will Lead Wagner in Scoring and Land in the NEC’s Top Five in the Same Category

Opportunities are plentiful in a league that lost much of its older talent, mostly via graduation. Some of those opportunities reside in Grymes Hill where after a fantastic 2021-22 campaign, the Seahawks start fairly anew after graduating five highly accomplished super seniors, including two-time NEC Player of the Year and one-time Defensive Player of the Year Alex Morales. Donald Copeland takes over the head coaching reins from friend and mentor Bashir Mason, and it’s because of those ties that I believe things stay the same for Wagner. Copeland said as much during NEC Media Day when asked if anything will change with Wagner basketball now that he’s in charge.

“I can’t say a whole lot,” Copeland admitted. “The motto is defense and toughness, so that’s what it’s going to be. Like Bash, I was raised that way within the game. It’s hard for me to just get off of it now.”

If you’re tough and willing to defend, you’ll enjoy more offensive freedom and more playing time. This is a major reason why Saint Joseph’s transfer Rahmir Moore should see the court quite a bit in his first season as a Seahawk – his defensive versatility, physical build and tenacity has been lauded by the Wagner coaching staff this preseason. The opportunity to score the ball on a team that graduated its top four scorers from a season ago is there as well.

“Those were two premier scorers in our league, Alex (Morales) and Will (Martinez), and there’s potential for that with Rahmir,” Copeland said when asked about how Moore compares to last season’s offensive talent.

Under Mason, the Seahawks thrived at attacking the rim and scoring in the mid-range, eschewing analytics and its love for ‘3 and Rim’ concepts in the process. With Morales, Martinez and Elijah Ford illustrating efficient pull-up jumpers while also thriving off the bounce, it was easy for Wagner to embrace the old-school approach while not sacrificing offensive efficiency. The same should now apply to Moore, who’s older brother Ramone was a standout player at Temple more than a decade ago.

At Saint Joseph’s under Billy Lange, Moore attempted 51.4% of his shots near the rim. Of his 58 makes by the rim in two seasons, only 15 of those were assisted, meaning Moore did well getting downhill and generating scoring looks by himself. A move from the Atlantic 10 to the NEC will make it easier for Moore to finish among opposing 4s and 5s, thus an improvement from a 46.4% conversion rate on near-the-rim attempts, per Hoop Math, makes sense.

Combine Moore’s skill set with a group of complementary guards led by Zaire Williams and DeLonnie Hunt, and he should fit in well as the off-the-bounce bull who makes a living at the charity stripe (career 73.8% FT). For me, Moore’s inevitable progression to a double digit per game scorer is exactly what Wagner needs, and if he matures to the 15 ppg level, then he’ll emerge as one of the premier scorers in the league.