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Mike Lopresti | | March 16, 2023

First battle for 7-4 Zach Edey and Purdue is FDU, the shortest team in Division I

FDU vs. Texas Southern - First Four NCAA tournament extended highlights

DAYTON, Ohio – Good win for Fairleigh Dickinson Wednesday in the First Four, but then the Knights hopped on the bus and headed for harm’s way. Zach Edey was waiting for them 75 miles up the road.

So this note needs to get delivered ASAP to a man in the great VIP suite in the sky.

Dear Fairleigh Dickinson Sr. . . .

Let’s save the sobering news about your basketball team for later. They say you were quite the benefactor back in the 1940s with all that money from founding a Fortune 500 medical technology company. Have you seen what your namesake school is up to this March?

The Knights blew past Texas Southern 84-61 Wednesday in the First Four. What a night. This time last year, they were 4-22. “We would never have dreamed this 10 months ago,” your coach was saying. He’s quite a story himself. Been yearning to do this job since, well, forever. His name is Tobin Anderson, son of a coach, and this is what he had to say about his life’s calling: “I was in the gym when I was probably old enough to walk. All I wanted to do was be a college basketball coach. All my buddies at Wesleyan are working in finance and Wall Street. They make a lot more money than I do, they have houses and beach houses and boats and all that kind of stuff.”

Yeah, he went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Know who was once the lacrosse team captain at Wesleyan? Bill Belichick. But we digress.

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Anderson has worked his way up to the bright lights of the NCAA tournament. He was coaching in Division II in 2022. “I wish there was a picture of the St. Thomas Aquinas gym. I wish you could see where I’ve coached the last nine years,” he said at a press conference the other day. “You could fit our gym probably in this media room right here. There’s a batting cage above the gym. It’s the tiniest place of all time.”

But Friday he and the guys will be in glittering and spacious Nationwide Arena in Columbus, having marked up only the second NCAA tournament win in school history. You should be so proud.

But at the risk of raining on your parade at this happy moment . . .

Next is Purdue. That means next is Zach Edey. He’ll be the 7-4 tower of terror in the middle.

Perhaps you’ve noticed something about the team wearing your name. Giants, they ain’t. Sophomore Ansley Almonor was the tallest starter Wednesday night and he’s 6-6. That’s 10 inches below the peak of Mount Edey. The productive backcourt mates who came from St. Thomas Aquinas with Anderson are Demetre Roberts and Grant Singleton. They’re 5-8 and 5-9, so they’ll be giving away more than a foot and half. You could almost stack one on top of the other and get an Edey.

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Your coach isn’t going to let that spoil the mood. He’s heard that topic all season.

“We’ve heard that a lot, obviously, being the smallest team in the country,” Anderson said. “I look out there a lot of times and we look kind of the same as everybody else.”

But when it’s Edey the one being measured against?

 “There’s some times the eye test is true.”

The players sounded Even Almonor, who will be eyeball-to-eyeball with Edey. Well, he will be if someone gets him a ladder.

He stood in the hallway Wednesday night and discussed what he would soon be up against. Emphasis on up.

“I don’t even think I’m going to realize that until I’ll actually be in the game and really see him. I’ve never seen anybody that tall in person. When I get to the game I’m going to see, oh yeah, this guy is really that tall.”

Almonor has watched Purdue play a little and noticed how Edey just passes over double teams sometimes. “He’ll probably be looking over me, too.” But he wants this chance.

“This is the stuff I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid, being on this stage to play against the best players in the country. I’m finally on this stage  and I’m here to belong and I’ll show everybody in the country.”

He certainly won’t be trying to stuff the ball over Edey. He roamed out on the floor and buried five 3-pointers against Texas Southern and that could be an issue for the big Boilermaker. “He’s not going to want to leave that paint,” Ainsley said. “I don’t think he’s guarded anybody who shoots the ball like me.”

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Something else to know. Your bunch loves to press and there have been times this season the Boilermakers have wilted against pressure defense. The Knights had eight steals Wednesday night.

“We’re going to do what we do,” Anderson said. “We’re going to press them, we’re going to guard the heck out of them if we can, be hard to guard. He’s got to guard Ansley, our 5 man who can shoot a little and try to create problems for them.

“We will not go to the next round not ready to compete. If they were playing a pickup game tomorrow morning at the local playground they would compete.”

Anderson would love to have more size but it’s not that easy when a new coach has to hit the ground recruiting.

“Would I like to have a Zach Edey in there playing the post? Absolutely,” Anderson said. “When I got the job in May there was not a lot of Zach Edeys out there. We searched and couldn’t find guys. But I’m a big believer . . .no matter what the size is as long as you have guys that can play and compete, you’ll have a chance to win. I don’t think it’s a big deal for us.”

That’s pretty much the only way they can approach this. A 7-4 opponent is a reality. That won’t change unless Edey gets a hot shower and shrinks before Friday.

“We’re the shortest team in Division I so we’ve got to make an impact in some way,” Roberts said. “I think when we throw the first punch there’s a good outcome for us, so we’ve got to just keep doing that.

“I’m pretty interested to see how this goes.”

So is the coach. “There’s a saying that scared goes home,” Anderson said. The way he figures it, he’s not only representing his school and his state, but all those Division II coaches who he knows could do well on the big stage if given a shot.

“I’ve seen them, I’ve coached against them, they’ve beat me,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys who deserve that opportunity. I was told for years for a number of times, go back to being a Division I assistant. ADs told me, `we will not hire a Division II coach,’ flat out said `we will not hire a Division II coach because our alums won’t support it.’ Quite frankly it’s frustrating.”

Maybe he could change that thinking with another win, but Anderson wasn’t kidding when he said “It’s going to be a tall, tall task for us on Friday night.”

But strange things can happen in March. You ever meet a guy up there named Saint Peter?

2023 NCAA tournament final scores, highlights

Tuesday, March 14 (First Four in Dayton, Ohio)

Wednesday, March 15 (First Four in Dayton, Ohio)

Thursday, March 16 (Round of 64)

Friday, March 17 (Round of 64)

Saturday, March 18 (Round of 32)

Sunday, March 19 (Round of 32)

Thursday, March 23 (Sweet 16)

Friday, March 24 (Sweet 16)

Saturday, March 25 (Elite 8)

Sunday, March 26 (Elite 8)

Saturday, April 1 (Final Four)

Monday, April 3 (National championship game)

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