Part of the beauty of March basketball is that as the stage gets bigger, the spotlight shrinks.
The biggest story coming out of the East Region was St. Peter’s shocking upset as the #15. They defeated the #2 seed Kentucky Wildcats on the first Thursday, providing this tournament’s biggest headline by going into overtime with Coach Calipari’s uber talented squad and dropping them 85-79.
Two days later, they were taking on the other school from Kentucky, Murray St., and went ahead and eliminated them, too, 70-60.
They’ll look to make their upset aggression travel north to the state of Indiana, where DraftKings has them as 12.5 point underdogs against the #3 seeded Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue has their own underdog story when it comes to March. They’ve not made it to the Final Four since 1980, despite being one of college basketball’s most consistent program. Coach Matt Painter despite being one of the nation’s most respected coaches, has never made it to the Final Four.
But that’s old news, and unlike last week, everyone will come into this week knowing about the Peacocks.
It starts with their coach, Shaheen Holloway, a former Seton Hall player and most likely soon to be Seton Hall head coach after Seton’s Hall’s last coach made a public endorsement for him to take his not yet vacated seat. Success breeds strange press conferences.
Unlike Kentucky and Murray St., Coach Painter will have a full four days to scout St. Peters and two very good reasons for his players to take them very seriously. The Peacocks are certainly a plucky bunch, Cinderellas in all but dress, but they also have players as the state of Kentucky found out.
KC Ndefo is one of the nation’s most dangerous, well rounded defenders in the country. He’s only 6’7” but he has a top 10 block rate on the season. He moves all over the floor, able to hound horizontally and rise vertically to challenge shots. He was a physical force against Kentucky, the one player who looked like he belonged athletically with Cal’s squad of five stars, but it was the game against that Murray State where Ndefo announced himself as dominant.
He had 17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 6 blocks. He was the best player on the court in a round of 32 game. That kind of stuff.
Especially when you can balance that with someone who just doesn’t miss clutch shots. St. Peter’s has that in Doug Edert. The junior dropped 20 points against Kentucky, most of them coming late when the game seemed to going back to Kentucky. It was Edert that always had an answer. Edert’s game is not flashy - he won’t force a bad shot, ever. He’s great with his foot work despite lacking obvious speed and size. He uses off ball screens like Picasso uses pastels. He’s scored 33 points in two tournament games while only taking 13 shots.
St. Peter’s team in general works like this - slow paced but purposeful. They killed Kentucky on back screens. They don’t just run back screens, they sprint them, at unusual angles, whenever there is space in the paint. They constantly make guards have to stick with them. It manufactured just enough space for Edert and St. Peter’s guards to get into space to knock down shots.
They also do a good job leveraging Ndefo and Hassan Drame’s speed as big men to attack on the roll. This will likely be the play Coach Holloway draws up again and again. Purdue’s bigs and guards have struggled all year to contain the pick and roll. Particularly sharp pick and rolls ran hard with big men that can move. Holloway’s guards are all capable of hitting pocket bounce passes and they’ll trade a few turnovers for potential dunks and lay ups at the rim.
Purdue’s ability to defend this will be the difference in whether this is a close game or if Purdue’s offense will be just too much for a Peacocks team that lacks all the size you need to challenge Purdue’s big men.
Heard that one before? Well Chris Beard had, and he’d faced it twice, but this year’s Purdue’s team is a little different. There just isn’t an answer to an engaged Trevion Williams who dominated Texas for 22 points and a 7’4” Zach Edey who’s racked up 19 rebounds in 35 minutes of action in the NCAA Tournament so far.
St. Peter’s has a bunch of skinny big guys that aren’t the most effective rebounders. I think you know where I’m going with that. Purdue’s ability to control the boards and get to the line so far has been the floor raiser for a team that’s only really struggled in the Big Ten where physical play and physical bigs are much more prevalent.
In Philadelphia, where there’s steps and bells and a love for the underdogs, it’s likely to the be the skyscrapers that decide who is going onto the Elite Eight. Purdue has them, St. Peter’s doesn’t.
Though it must be noted that Kentucky also had a dominant big, perhaps THE dominant big in Oscar Tshiebwe who put 30 points and 16 rebounds. Tshiebwe is likely the Nation’s Player of the Year and was too much for St. Peters on the inside but not enough to hold off the upset.
Which is why Purdue’s match up is particularly unfair for the Peacocks. What Kentucky really lacked against St. Peters was a guard who could do damage with the ball in his hands. Sahvir Wheeler was successful getting to the hoop occasionally, but he was a 5’9”
guard who really struggled with decision making and making plays for others. He’s also a 30% three point shooter.
None of these limitations exist for a team that has Jaden Ivey in their back court. Talk about the improved play of Eric Hunter Jr. and the other perimeter players at Purdue, but as Ivey showed in the second half against Texas, particularly in the clutch, just having Ivey is enough in a close game. Ivey is one of the most physically imposing guards in the country and it’s unlikely St. Peters has any answers for his elite burst and ability to get to the rim.
Then again, St. Peter’s didn’t have a chance on paper either of the games last week.
A #15 seed has never made it past the Sweet Sixteen, but Cinderella teams make their moments out of defying the odds.
It’s going to be a good one.
Basketball GameDay Vitals
|St. Peter's Peacocks||Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC|
|St. Peter's Peacocks||Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC|
|From:||Jersey City, NJ|
|Game Location:||Philadelphia, PA|
|Venue:||Wells Fargo Center (19,500)|
|Odds:||Purdue by 12.5|
|Date & Time:||Friday, March 25, 2022, 7:09pm ET|
|Live Stats:||Purdue Sports|
|2020-21 Record||14-11, 10-8|
|NCAA Tournament History:||4th appearance. This is the first season they have won a game. 2017 CIT Champions|
|Series With Purdue:||Purdue leads 1-0|
|Last Purdue win:||65-43 in Chicago, IL on 3/18/2011 (NCAA Tournament First Round)|
|Last St. Peter's win:||None|
|Coach:||Shaheen holloway (63-55 in 4th year at St. Peter's)|