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NCAA Tournament: Get to know the Cal State Fullerton Titans

Here are some basic questions and answers about the Big West champs (such as, what’s that phone call celebration?)

NCAA Basketball: Big West Conference Tournament_Fullerton v. Irvine Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in a decade, the Titans will be dancing.

Often overshadowed by their counterparts on the baseball diamond, Cal State Fullerton’s men’s basketball team became the eighth team in eight years to win the Big West Championship.

For those who aren't too familiar with this 15-seed, here are some basic questions and answers about the Cal State Fullerton Titans.

Who is this team?

The Cal State Fullerton Titans (20-11 overall, 10-6 Big West) are one of two Los Angeles-area institutions in the NCAA Tournament. They are one of nine members of the Big West Conference, which has recently sent schools like UC Davis, UC Irvine and Hawaii to the Big Dance.

How did they make it to the NCAA Tournament?

After beating pesky five-seed Long Beach State team on the final possession, the Titans upset regular-season champion UC Davis in the Big West quarterfinals. Cal State Fullerton won the Big West championship game over UC Irvine — and its notoriously-stingy defense — with a 42-point second half explosion, in which the Titans shot 56.7% from the field and only made five threes.

What is Cal State Fullerton’s style of play?

One of Head Coach Dedrique Taylor’s mantras is “defense, rebound and run.” So it’s no surprise that they get 23.2% of their baskets in transition and 36.1% of their shot attempts on the heels of defensive rebounds, per Hoop-Math.

The Titans will rely on either four-guard sets, or three guards around stretch forwards Jackson Rowe and Arkim Robertson — one of two traditional post players on the roster. Purdue clearly has a height advantage over Cal State Fullerton, but that’s expected with a roster with two seven-footers.

Expect Fullerton to play a man defense that puts the bulk of its attention on Purdue’s back-court. Austen Awosika, Jamal Smith and Davon Clare have good size and length, which they used to disrupt the Big West’s smaller guards. Cal State Fullerton has five guards who can slip through passing lanes and finish in transition, but they will be tested against Purdue’s veterans.

Which players should I keep an eye on?

Keep an eye on Jackson Rowe. He’s a 6’7 stretch forward (12.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 22-47 from three) who will be paramount against Purdue’s bigs.

As for the guards, Fullerton’s backcourt is hard to miss.

Enter junior guards Khalil Ahmad and Kyle Allman. The roommates were responsible for 37 of Fullerton’s 42 second-half points in the Big West Championship game; both are more than capable of dropping 20 points on any given night.

That half was a microcosm of how this junior tandem played throughout the year. Allman, the eventual Big West Tournament MVP, stole the show early in the season; the New York native tallied 14 20-point outings in the regular season — chief among them, a 40-point performance in a 69-66 win at Hawaii.

Ahmad, a onetime Big West Freshman of the year, brought the Titans home with a huge second-half showing in conference play: He averaged 18.1 ppg, 3.1 apg and 2.0 spg on 52% shooting.

Either one of these guards can get hot, and I’d be willing to venture at least one will drop 20 on Purdue. Once they get into a rhythm, expect to see a lot of “talkin’ nice” or “long distance calls” — two possible interpretations of Cal State Fullerton’s celebration of choice:

How can they pull off an upset?

Since I have watched one (1) Purdue basketball game this season, I reached out to Hammer and Rails editor Travis Miller for some expert advice:

Purdue has struggled when the offense stagnates and relies on Haas a little too much. Struggled is a relative term, of course. Of its six losses, three came in the final possession.

Purdue’s three-point shooting has been off lately. Against Iowa, Purdue bombed in 20 threes; since then they have struggled — notably point guard P.J. Thompson. As the fifth option in the offense, Thompson gets a lot of wide-open looks. He has had a knack for knocking those looks down when they come, but his shot has been off of late. Thompson is shooting 44% from three for the season, but since going 4-6 at Iowa, he is only 11-39, well below his career average. He will get open looks, and his ability to hit them as they come greatly improves Purdue’s offense because it gives teams a dreaded “something else to worry about.”

Honestly, it is going to take a lot for Purdue to lose to Cal State Fullerton. Haas will almost certainly have to get in foul trouble, something he has avoided for most of the season. Vince Edwards will have to have one of his mysterious ghosting games (he has been limited with a sprained ankle since Feb. 17th) and Carsen Edwards will have to have a poor game like he did in the Big Ten title game against Michigan. It would pretty much have to be a perfect storm of poor Purdue play and Fullerton getting hot from three.

Worth noting: KenPom gives Cal State Fullerton a 6% chance of pulling this 15-over-2 upset. So it’s not impossible!

Did Stanley Kubrick and the United States government fake the Apollo 11 moon landing?

As any Purdue alumni would say: Because two-dozen astronauts attended a university dubbed “the cradle of astronauts,” the moon landing was 100 percent real. All astronauts — some of whom went to Purdue — are national heroes, and no self-respecting Boilermaker would prance around a film set in Los Angeles in a conspiracy to deceive the American people — including Purdue grads.

Apollo 11 was not staged. (Neil Armstrong went to Purdue.)