Need A March Madness Team To Back As Sweet 16 Nears? Try The Saint Peter’s Peacocks

Written By Grant Lucas on March 23, 2022
Saint Peter's Peacocks March Madness Cinderella

Just across the Hudson River, a 12-minute PATH train ride from New York City, sits a small Jesuit school in Jersey City.

With an enrollment of about 3,000, Saint Peter’s University, a 30-acre campus typically home to humility and serenity, has roared onto the scene with a men’s college basketball team that has caused absolute chaos in March.

The No. 15 Peacocks, champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, are in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. And madness has certainly followed them through the first week of the tourney.

It’s possible many individuals don’t exactly possess a fond outlook on Saint Peter’s, especially after the Peacocks knocked off No. 2 Kentucky in the Round of 64, a team commonly perceived as a darkhorse title contender. But open your heart and your mind’s eye: Saint Peter’s is America’s team now.

Or, at the very least, the Peacocks should be the team adopted by New York for the rest of March.

Saint Peter’s taps into New York/New Jersey talent

Start with the regional bias of it all.

Of the 15 players on the Peacocks’ roster, 12 have ties to either New York or New Jersey. Five of those players attended high school or prep school in the Empire State. Three call New York their home state, including KC Ndefo (pride of Elmont), who put up 17 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in the Round-of-32 win over No. 7 Murray State.

Shaheen Holloway, in his fourth year as the Saint Peter’s coach, hails from Queens. And he has certainly made it clear that his players’ roots make the Peacocks a tough draw for any opponent.

“I’m going to say this. It’s going to come off a little crazy. I got guys from New Jersey and New York City,” Holloway said after Saint Peter’s upset Murray State. “You think we’re scared of anything? You think we’re worried about guys trying to muscle us and tough us out?”

Holloway then added:

“We have played bigger teams the whole time. So them being a little bigger and stronger, it doesn’t faze us. When you got tough, hard-nosed kids, they’re ready to play.”

Interestingly, the last time a team from New Jersey reached the Sweet 16 was Seton Hall in 2000. Its point guard: Shaheen Holloway.

Peacocks one win away from March Madness history

Since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a No. 15 seed has advanced to the Elite Eight exactly zero times.

Oral Roberts came close last year, but the small Oklahoma program fell just short as No. 3 Arkansas won on a jumper with 2.9 seconds left. This year, another No. 3 seed stands in the way of a Cinderella. Saint Peter’s will have to upset No. 3 Purdue in Philadelphia. Location certainly favors the Peacocks, as Wells Fargo Center is a short 90-mile trek from the campus.

Saint Peter’s has already rewritten the record books in many ways this past week.

For starters, the program went into its fourth-ever tournament in search of its first-ever win. The Peacocks scratched that off the list as Daryl Banks III poured in 27 points to help Saint Peter’s upend No. 2 Kentucky and become the 10th No. 15 seed to win in the Round of 64. It also marked Kentucky’s first opening-round loss since John Calipari took over in 2009. The Wildcats were 9-0.

Two days alter, Ndefo anchored the Peacocks as they stifled red-hot Murray State, riding a 21-game winning streak. In putting away the Racers, Saint Peter’s became the first MAAC team to reach the Sweet 16. The Peacocks also joined Oral Roberts (2021) and Florida Gulf Coast (2013) as the only 15-seeds to advance to the Sweet 16.

One more win against Purdue, and Saint Peter’s can add another landmark moment.

Your brackets are busted anyway, so why not root for chaos?

Let’s face it, after the first two days of the tournament, you were already lamenting your poor choices in filling out your bracket.

Essentially all of America was by Saturday morning. Saint Peter’s no doubt had a hand in that.

As noted earlier, the tournament opened with Kentucky has a fairly popular pick to to reach the Final Four, if not win the national championship. Many bracket contests saw the Wildcats as the fourth-most popular pick to win the title. A similar trend happened with legal sportsbooks.

For example, DraftKings Sportsbook noted that Kentucky represented 8% of March Madness betting handle before the games tipped off and 7% of bets placed. To win the East Region, Kentucky drew 39% of the handle. Saint Peter’s wasn’t even ranked. Now, the Peacocks are two wins away (against Purdue and then the winner of No. 8 North Carolina/No. 4 UCLA) from creating all kinds of havoc.

Strut up with Edert in Holloway’s last run with Saint Peter’s

From 1918 to 1930, Saint Peter’s closed its doors as a result of World War I. But in 1930, the school reopened. And Rev. Gannon had an idea for Saint Peter’s official mascot. As a representation of “resurrection and eternal life,” the peacock was born at Saint Peter’s.

Resurrection. Eternal life. Fitting for a Cinderella team. For a team riding the hashtag “StrutUp.”

Fitting for Saint Peter’s basketball. In November, the Peacocks had a newly renovated gym: Run Baby Run Arena. It was a tribute to the 1968 team that defeated Duke in the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Fitting for players like Doug Edert. The 6-foot-2 Nutley, New Jersey, native has averaged 16.5 points per game this tournament, co-leading the Peacocks alongside Banks. And like Banks — like many of the Peacocks — Edert was not exactly the hottest of recruits out of high school. Just a smattering of smaller Division I programs came calling. They can laugh now. Saint Peter’s is one of just 16 teams left. Plus, Edert as a Name, Image and Likeness deal with Buffalo Wild Wings. Not bad.

Finally, fitting for Shaheen Holloway. Just over 20 years ago, he led the Pirates to the Sweet 16. An injury sidelined the point guard, however, and Seton Hall fell to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the regional semifinals. Holloway “was a decent player,” he recalled, but noted his smaller stature. (He was listed at 5-10, 174 pounds.) “People counted me out,” the coach said after Saint Peter’s win over Murray State. “So I had something to prove every time. So I coached that way.”

And it might be the last time he coaches that way at Saint Peter’s. After all, Kevin Willard was just hired to become the head coach at Maryland. Willard heads to College Park from … Seton Hall. Holloway served as an associate head coach under Willard, making him the likely first call from Seton Hall. If it were Iona coach Rick Pitino, the Pirates “shouldn’t even make another call.”

For all these reasons, Saint Peter’s should be your team. New York’s team. America’s team.

Photo by AP / Darron Cummings
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the senior managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. He now oversees PlayNY as New York expands legalized gambling to sports betting and online casino gaming.

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