The Nazareth Principle and March Madness

A Real David vs. Goliath Story

Matt Pearson / 3.24.23

Can anything good come from Nazareth?
Can anything good come from Fairleigh Dickenson?
Can the weak really be chosen to confound the mighty?

Let’s face it. We are all bad at evaluating others. We assign worth and value on what is seen, the external. We assume someone from Nazareth is a worthless, Podunk redneck. We assume a two-coin widow’s contribution is pointless. We forget that he who sits in heaven laughs at the raging of the nations. And we all feel great about our brackets until the tournament starts.

Every season of March Madness has its beloved underdog, but this year has been something else entirely. At the end of the first day of tourney action, only .0002 percent of brackets were perfect. And that was before the perhaps biggest upset of NCAA tournament history. On Friday, statistically the worst team in the competition, Fairleigh Dickenson (FDU), knocked off statistically one of the best teams in the entire league, the Purdue Boilermakers. That’s right. The FDU Knights, a 16 seed, defeated a number 1 seed. Though it has happened before (a 16 seed defeating a 1 seed), this David was much weaker and this Goliath much stronger.

FDU measured as the shortest team in the NCAA this season. Not just the tournament field. The whole NCAA. Contrast that with Purdue being measured as the tallest in the league. Again, not just among those playing the tourney. No. The entire NCAA. Add to this the fact that Purdue boasted of one of the tallest players in the league, Zach Edey, who will probably win the league’s most valuable player award later this year.

Now consider this: Purdue is what’s called a power 5 school. They are a part of the Big 10 Conference with other “big-name” schools like Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Fairleigh Dickenson? The Northeast Conference. A conference with schools like Merrimack, Stone Hill, and Wagner. If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of any of these schools. Even more, FDU wasn’t even supposed to be in the Big Dance. Against all these schools we’ve never heard of, FDU didn’t even come in first in their conference, nor did they win their conference tournament. They punched their ticket to the tourney on a technicality. The Merrimack College Warriors possess the NEC crown for 2023, but an NCAA rule about transitioning from D-2 to D-1 kept them out of the men’s championship. FDU got the nod in their place.

And yet, the Knights of Fairleigh Dickenson University pulled off the win.

FDU defeated #1 seeded Purdue 63-58 on Friday, March 17th. According to Sports Illustrated (SI), only 2.36% of brackets predicted the upset. Considering the fact that SI boasts between 60–100 million brackets turned in each year, this only proves the point: we aren’t very good at evaluating others. You can go here to see just how awful we are at thinking we know the value and worth of a college basketball team.

When brackets are busted and the underdogs of the tournament vanquish the favored team, we call it an upset. A Cinderella Story that demonstrates the parity of March Madness. For all the apparent randomness of basketball, the upset proves something far more profound. The brackets weren’t wrong; we were. “The better team won,” as most coaches will say. The sixteenth seed wasn’t as bad as everyone assumed and the top seed wasn’t nearly as good. “That’s why they play the games,” to use another coaching aphorism.

Within the topsy-turvy unpredictability of the tournament, one constant remains: we aren’t very good at measuring worth and value on a whole lot of things. We are easily swayed by the height of a power forward, the size of program’s budget, and the number of four or five star recruits a team boasts. While we are prone to look on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart.

A young, small shepherd boy becomes king, while the tallest and “obvious” gets rejected.
A sinful prodigal enjoys the feast, while the “obedient” sulks outside.
A tax collector gets mercy, while a religious leader remains iniquitous.
A mustard seed grows to become the largest plant.
A tiny amount of yeast leavens a significant amount of dough.
The smallest school in the country defeats the tallest. . . in basketball.
God chooses the weak to shame the strong.
A guy from a “nothing good” town called Nazareth rescues the world.

Aren’t you glad we were wrong?

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