HAIL DAVID; SYMPATHY FOR GOLIATH
We all love upsets during the NCAA Tournament, but let’s have some compassion for Purdue’s Edey
Nobody in the world has a perfect men’s NCAA Tournament bracket. Perfection would have been possible only if you were a super-genius computer or one of a trillion monkeys with an endless supply of crayons.
Who else could pick No. 13 Furman over No. 4 Virginia and No. 15 Princeton over No. 2 Arizona and No. 7 Missouri?
And how about the biggest one, No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson over No. 1 Purdue?
If you picked that one, well, what were you thinking?
But this column is not about the fun in bracket-guessing, the March ritual that deprives the U.S. economy of an estimated $16.3 billion from distracted workers.
Nope, it’s about the shock — is ‘‘trauma’’ too tough a word? — of footnoting your life with one of the most embarrassing sports failures in college hoops memory.
That would be Purdue after losing to a team that was not only a No. 16 seed but a play-in No. 16 that had to beat 20-loss Texas Southern just to get the chance to be bottomranked and thus quickly annihilated by a team called the best in the country for much of the season. But it didn’t happen like that.
Purdue lost 63-58 to the New Jersey school that had losses this season to Longwood, Queens University of Charlotte,
Stonehill, Wagner, Merrimack, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, Sacred Heart and Hartford.
The last time — make that the only other time — that a No. 1 seed lost to a
No. 16 in the tourney was five years ago, when Maryland-Baltimore County beat Virginia. Entering the Purdue-Fairleigh Dickinson game, No. 1s were a combined 150-1 against No. 16s in tournament history.
But the thing that makes the loss nearly unbearable for Purdue is that it was the tallest team in the country and Fairleigh Dickinson the shortest.
Basketball is about height. And Purdue’s Goliath, if you will, is 7-4, 305-pound Zach Edey, the tallest (and heaviest) man in the tourney, the Big Ten Player of the Year and a leading candidate for national player of the year.
When 5-8, 165-pound Knights guard Demetre Roberts made a layup over — or sort of through — Edey’s outstretched arm at the end of the first half Friday, it was a symbol of all that is good and sweet and humiliating and terrifying about elite sports competition.
Amazing things happen in upsets, as do heartbreaking things. There was a lot to take away from this game. A whole lot.
Start with this: Nobody wants to be Edey or his teammates when folks start talking about underachieving or cockiness or being overrated or not taking foes seriously. We watchers always identify with the underdogs, who, of course, have nothing to lose in these battles. It’s the ‘‘overdogs’’ who suffer badly in defeat.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called ‘‘David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and
the Art of Battling Giants,’’ explaining how throughout history — starting with that shepherd kid with the slingshot — underdogs often have risen up to beat huge favorites. One key way? Do the unexpected. That’s what Fairleigh Dickinson did offensively, attacking the much taller team with speed to the basket. After all, little Roberts went straight to the hole on Edey, who is 20 inches taller and 140 pounds heavier than he.
Purdue coach Matt Painter was the embodiment of grace and acceptance in his postgame interview, answering every question from every reporter about the loss.
What Painter said about Edey was kind and logical: ‘‘He’s a good dude, man. It’s too bad. He deserves better than this.’’
Painter’s point was that Edey, a junior, might not be returning to college and that this might be his signature collegiate moment. This implication was also there: This might be Edey’s signature moment, period. No matter that he led both teams with 21 points and 15 rebounds; big guys are supposed to win.
Two years ago, Iowa’s Luka Garza, a 6-11 center, was the Big Ten Player of the Year. And last year, 7-0, 293-pound Illinois center Kofi Cockburn was first-team All-Big Ten. Both men ate up the college game, but neither is dominating in the pros. It’s not certain how Edey will do at the next level, either. He’s projected as a second-round draft pick.
As 7-1 Wilt Chamberlain so often said, ‘‘Nobody loves Goliath.’’
Right now, however, I feel a little break in my heart for the big dude from West Lafayette, Indiana.