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Saint Peter's celebrates their upset of Kentucky
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I can assure you that Saint Peter’s is one of the last teams that people anticipated to make an impressive Cinderella run this season.

To tell you the truth, the private Jesuit University in Jersey City, New Jersey hasn’t made a ton of noise in recent years. Things weren’t expected to change in 2021-22, but the Peacocks entered the Big Dance ready to shock college basketball and the world. March Madness is living up to its name.

After defeating Kentucky and Murray State in the first two rounds, the Peacocks made school history by reaching the Sweet 16 for the very first time. With the way they’ve been playing so far in the NCAA Tournament, I wouldn’t advise you to count them out in their next contest. Before you check them out again on Friday, I think it would be wise for me to provide you with some interesting information about their program/ 2021-22 squad and journey to the Sweet 16. as they continue to put the Madness in March Madness.

Who are the Saint Peter’s Peacocks?

Saint Peter's huddles up in their second round game against Murray State.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

RELATED: March Madness’ 12 Greatest Cinderella Stories of All Time

Before joining the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in 1981, Saint Peter’s played in the Metropolitan Collegiate Conference (MCC) and Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Metro (ECACM). They also elected not to compete in a Division 1 conference for ten straight seasons (1969-1979). Their first two NCAA Tournament appearances came in 1991 and 1995, when Ted Fiore was the leader of the Peacocks’ program.

Saint Peter’s got bounced in the first-round during both seasons, but they returned to the Big Dance in 2011 hoping to receive better results. Once again, the Peacocks failed to reach the Round of 32 and take a step forward as a program. Needless to say, the seasons leading up to the Peacocks’ magical 2021-22 campaign were more disappointing than encouraging, but it’s clear now that hiring head coach Shaheen Holloway in 2018 was a decision that benefited the program tremendously.

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If you only took away one thing about Saint Peter’s last week, it should have been that the Peacocks are always connected defensively. In basketball, it’s important for teammates to help each other out when guys are out of position, which is something the Peacocks do constantly. If a guard gets beat off the dribble and knows he won’t be able to close in on the ball-handler in time, a player will slide over and take on his defensive assignment. In order to return the favor, the player who required help will then find his teammate’s man and defend him to the best of his abilities. It’s called helping the helper, and it’s a technique that the Peacocks employ to prevent their opponents from getting the shots they want on the offensive end.

Statistically, the Peacocks are ranked in the top 30 in several of the major defensive categories. In addition to only giving up 62.2 points per game (19th in the country), they’re allowing teams to shoot just 38.3 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three (5th and 16th in the country).

Offensively, their numbers won’t jump out at you, but there are some individual statistics that are worth noting in this section. According to Kenpom.com, Doug Edert’s offensive rating (127.5), free throw percentage (88.5 percent) and three-point percentage (42.5 percent) are all ranked in the top 100 nationally (16th, 35th and 74th). His teammate, KC Ndefo, draws 6.0 fouls per contest (45th in the country) and is currently enjoying a 60.2 free throw rate (30th in the country). Both players are averaging less than 12 points per game this season, but they fully understand how they’re going to score their points when they’re on the floor.

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How the Peacocks Qualified for the NCAA Tournament

Toward the end of December, the Peacocks were going in the wrong direction. They fell to 3-6 after dropping a winnable road game to Stony Brook and had their next five contests either postponed or canceled. When they resumed play on January 14th against Monmouth, they finally found a winning formula and quickly turned their season around. They won nine of their next fourteen games and marched into the MAAC Tournament on a four-game winning streak. After defeating Fairfield in the Quarterfinals, the Peacocks took care of Quinnipiac in the Semifinals to advance to their biggest game of the season at the time.

After going into the break with a measly four-point lead against Monmouth, Saint Peter’s created some early separation from the Hawks in the second half. Unsurprisingly, the Hawks closed the gap in no time and trailed the Peacocks by two with a little over a minute to play in the contest. When it was time to make a championship-winning play with the game on the line, however, Doug Edert stepped up and drilled a big-time triple to put the Peacocks up by five. After nailing three free throws and converting a layup at the rim, the Peacocks raised their point total up to 60, which was good enough for them to walk away with a six-point victory over the Hawks. Edert was the MVP for the Peacocks in the MAAC title game, as he only needed to attempt 10 shots to score 20 points (5-10 field goal shooting).

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How Did the Peacocks Beat Kentucky and Murray State?

 Saint Peter's Peacocks guard Daryl Banks III goes up for a dunk
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When you lace up your sneakers and take the floor against Kentucky, you need to make the Wildcats’ star big man uncomfortable.

Oscar Tshiebwe had his way offensively for most of last week’s Round of 64, but he struggled to make his presence felt during the latter part of the overtime period. Why? Well, because the Peacocks tightened up their 2-3 zone and made it challenging for the Wildcats to get the ball to their best offensive weapon. Tshiebwe isn’t the type of player who’s going to dribble the ball from the perimeter into the low-post, so if his teammates are unable to feed him for whatever reason, they’ll be forced to generate offense on their own.

When this occurred last week, the Wildcats turned the ball over once, missed a layup and couldn’t knock down their final two perimeter jumpers at the end of their first-round defeat. When the ball was in the Peacocks’ possession, Doug Edert and Daryl Banks III made several big plays for Shaheen Holloway’s club. They combined for 47 points and knocked down 12 free throws in their upset win over the Wildcats. Edert’s deep three and off-balance floater near the end of regulation helped the Peacocks extend their season for at least five more minutes.

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Against Murray State, St Peter’s successfully neutralized the Racers’ top two scorers and forced the OVC Tournament champions to play catch-up in the second half. I’m sure KJ Williams and Tevin Brown expected to play efficient basketball when their Round of 32 contest tipped off, but the Peacocks prioritized making everything tough for them on the offensive end. Williams finished with 12 points on 2-9 shooting from the field while Brown netted 14 points on 5-17 shooting from the field. Good players are always going to figure out how to put the ball in the basket one way or another, but they won’t be as impactful if they can’t score at a high clip, which is what the Peacocks comprehended going into the game.

On top of being on their toes defensively, Saint Peter’s implemented their ball and player movement heavy offense early and often against the Racers. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s not easy to predict who will have a stellar offensive game for the Peacocks. As Shaheen Holloway would probably say, if you cut hard and make yourself available to your teammates, you could easily end up receiving the game ball at the conclusion of a contest. In the second round, it was KC Ndefo who had the hot hand and led the Peacocks in scoring with 17 points. The Peacocks have their work cut out for them against the Purdue Boilermakers in the Sweet 16, but if they prepare the right way and give Jaden Ivey the KJ Williams/Tevin Brown treatment defensively, they’ll give themselves a chance to win their third NCAA Tournament game and continue writing their compelling Cinderella story.

MORE: The Gonzaga Bulldogs: No Longer Cinderella, But Still Seeking A Fairy Tale Ending

Caleb is a Creative Writing/Journalism graduate of Hofstra University and lives in Cooksville, Maryland. He’s a college basketball junkie who loves to examine intriguing players and teams around the country.
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