Cal State Fullerton will seek to become the second 15th-seeded team in two days to defeat a second-seeded team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament when it faces Duke Friday in a first-round game in Greenville, South Carolina.
St. Peter’s, the 15th seed in the East Region, defeated second-seeded Kentucky, 85-79, in overtime Thursday night in Indianapolis, the 10th time in 145 games a 15th-seeded team has defeated a second-seeded team in the first round since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The Blue Devils are among the 10 second seeds to lose to a 15th-seed, falling to Lehigh, 75-70 in 2012.
Oddsmakers have made Duke an 18-1/2-point favorite in the West Region game. The ABC News-owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Titans a 3% chance of winning.
Cal State Fullerton (21-10) is the overall 62nd seed in the 68-team tournament. The Blue Devils (28-6) are the overall sixth seed.
“We’re playing college basketball itself so I’m anxious to see this group in that environment and how they handle themselves,” Titans coach Dedrique Taylor said at a news conference Thursday. “I think we have a very mature, very experienced group, but it’s a different animal when they’re getting on that stage.”
The Titans earned their first tournament berth since 2018 and fourth all-time with a 72-71 victory over Long Beach State in the final of the Big West Championship Saturday night in Henderson, Nevada, overcoming a 14-point first-half deficit and not allowing the Beach to get off a shot on the game’s final possession.
Cal State Fullerton’s leading scorer and rebounder is 6-foot-7-inch forward E.J. Anosike, who is averaging 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his first season with the Titans. He played at Tennessee last season, averaging 1.7 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.
Anosike played the first three seasons of his college career at Sacred Heart, leading the Northeast Conference in rebounding in the 2019-20 season, averaging 11.6 per game, sixth in Division I.
Anosike is among six Titans to have played for other Division I teams, including four who are in their first year at Cal State Fullerton.
“In the beginning it was kind of a bummer because we all come from different programs and philosophies and you’ve got to get to know each other pretty soon, but that’s what makes this team special,” Anosike said.
“We were able to do that and believe in each other, get to know each other, understand who we are because that’s the biggest thing. If you understand your brother that’s going to be to the left and the right of you, you can do anything you want. All you’ve got to do is believe in each other.”
This will be the first game between Duke and the Titans.
The Blue Devils will be making their 44th appearance in the NCAA tournament and first since 2019 when they lost 68-67 to Michigan State in the East Region final.
The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Duke did not make a postseason appearance last season when it was 13-11.
This will be the 36th and final time Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will coach in the tournament, breaking a tie with Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim for most appearances by a coach. Krzyzewski holds the NCAA record with 97 NCAA tournament wins.
The 75-year-old Krzyzewski announced on June 2 that he would retire at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Associate head coach Jon Scheyer was appointed to succeed Krzyzewski the same day.
The Blue Devils enter the tournament with losses in two of their last four games — 94-81 to North Carolina March 4 in Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and 82-67 to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game Saturday in Brooklyn.
Duke is led by Paolo Banchero, who was selected as the ACC Freshman of the Year and to the All-ACC first team. The 6-foot-10-inch forward leads the Blue Devils with 17 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Duke’s roster includes one player from Southern California, Spencer Hubbard, a 5-foot-8-inch sophomore walk-on guard from Harvard-Westlake School. He has scored one point in six minutes, 16 seconds over three games.
The game is set to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be televised by CBS.
The Duke-Cal State Fullerton winner will face the winner of the game between seventh-seeded Michigan State and 10th-seeded Davidson in a second-round game Sunday.