The Fairleigh Dickinson basketball team is one win away from the most successful homecoming yet – a berth in the NCAA Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden.
Standing in the way of the most unlikely Sweet 16 berth in Big Dance history: Florida Atlantic.
Yes, it’s FDU vs. FAU in a Round of 32 matchup Sunday (7:45 pm, truTV) that is the very essence of March Madness.
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Here’s a quick primer on 16th-seeded Knights (21-16) vs. 9th-seeded Owls (32-3).
3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT FAU
1. A new face on the scene: The program was founded in 1988 and moved up to the Division 1 ranks in 1993. This is its second NCAA Tournament, with the first coming in 2002. Friday’s 66-65 first-round win over Memphis marked the first victory in the Big Dance of the Owls.
2. Perhaps under-seeded: With a Kenpom of 22 and a NET of 13, and ranked inside the top 40 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, the Owls should be a No. 6 or No. 7 seeds. The Conference USA champions have won eight straight games and are 15-3 away from home, with a victory in Florida.
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3. Jersey boys: Sophomore guard Nick Boyd, who attended St. Mary High School in Rutherford, averaged 9.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists and hit the game-winner with two seconds left against Memphis. Junior guard Jalen Gaffney, who hails from Columbus in Burlington County, averaged 5 points per game off the bench.
3 KEYS FOR FDU
1. Box out. Height is not the issue here. These are the two smallest teams left in the field. But FAU was aggressive on the glass; the Owls grabbed 18 offensive boards against Memphis and were a healthy plus-six on the season in rebounding margin.
2. Win at the 3-point line. FAU makes nearly 10 3-pointers per game and shoots 37 percent from deep, while holding opponents to 31 percent. The Knights dared Purdue to beat them from deep. They will go out and watch these men.
3. Keep the bragging coming. The Knights eliminated Purdue because they were stronger and more confident. Those intangibles can change the outcome in a game, a pressure-filled setting.
Unlike Purdue, FAU won’t mind going up and down at FDU’s pace. This could be an entertaining shootout. The truth is that FAU looks a lot like FDU – balanced, rough, a little messy. But they’ve done a little better, and won’t be pushed out of their comfort zone as easily as Purdue. FAU 78, FDU 75.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball scene since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at email@example.com.