In March, college basketball rules the sports world as the regular season ends. NCAA Conference tournaments are completed and 68 collegiate programs get to compete under the national spotlight with a shot to win a national championship. It’s win or go home. Survive and advance.
In 2020, the NCAA tournaments were canceled because of COVID-19 before returning in 2021 with the tournament being held solely in the state of Indiana with limited fan attendance.
The opening round had thrilling action, close games and a few major upsets; one being a Cinderella run all the way to the Elite Eight.
Saint Peter’s University is a private university in the middle of Jersey City, New Jersey with an enrollment of roughly 2,300 students.
Their head basketball coach was Shaheen Holloway, a former McDonald’s All-American in 1995 with the late Kobe Bryant. Holloway went on to play his collegiate career at Seton Hall University. He returned as an assistant coach to the men’s basketball program in 2010 holding that title until 2018 when he took the job at Saint Peter’s as head coach.
They won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament to earn a berth into the tournament. They were given a 15 seed in the South region matched up against blue blood powerhouse, Kentucky.
The Peacocks entered the game as 18 point underdogs but walked away with a monumental 85-79 win in overtime to shock the Wildcats and coach John Calipari. The historic upset roared through national headlines in the sports world as a small school from Jersey City knocked off one of the most prolific college basketball programs ever.
The momentum was just beginning as Saint Peter’s would win their round of 32 matchup over Murray State 70-60 with a sweet sixteen matchup against 3 seed Purdue. Purdue has future NBA lottery pick, Jaden Ivey, on their team as well as 7’4” center Zach Edey. This was no problem for Saint Peter’s as they would knock off the Boilermakers in a 67-64 thriller. Saint Peter’s had become the first-ever 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight.
The Cinderella run would end in the Elite Eight as North Carolina would steamroll the Peacocks en route to a 20 point win, 69-49.
By this time, everyone was talking about this team and their coach. Coach Holloway is a player’s coach with a player’s mindset going back to his former days. His crisp offensive sets confused opposing defenses as well as the defensive schemes they used against their opponents.
In the last four minutes of each of their three wins, Saint Peter’s would run a full-court man-to-man soft press to prevent the offense from quickly getting into their sets. Once the point guard would cross half court, they would go into a 3-2 matchup zone which confused Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue. They were bewildered by the defensive adjustments and they could not score in the game when it mattered most.
Shaheen Holloway was then hired as the new head coach of Seton Hall, his alma mater. At the introductory press conference, Holloway had his Saint Peter’s team in attendance stating, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for these 15 men.”
This is what college basketball is about and has always been about. Small schools enter the big dance against powerhouse schools with funding and resources that outmatch the smaller schools. Everyone loves an underdog, and this year, that underdog that fans fell in love with Saint Peter’s.