The year was 1995. A fancy contraption called the 'World Wide Web' was gaining ground. Teenagers everywhere were ditching outdoor exercise for their Sony Playstations. The name Keyser Soze equally captivated and confused moviegoers everywhere. And, greatest of all, marketing companies were re-packaging cardboard and selling it back to our children as POGs. Oh, the glory days.
Another thing happened during the same year that barely even registers a blip on the radar now: The St. Peter's Peacocks made the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in school history. A monumental event, to say the least. Many felt this was a mid-major program on the up-and-up, destined for future trips into the big dance as the lone MAAC representative. But it was not to be. Future NCAA Tournaments came and went. The Peacocks just couldn't find a way to replicate the magic of that '95 campaign.
After 15 seasons of heartbreak, misfortune, and mediocre play, St. Peter's can finally enjoy March Madness again. Picked third in the MAAC preseason poll by the coaches, the Peacocks knocked off the heavily-favored Iona Gaels to end a 16-year drought and represent the league on the grandest of stages. Win or lose in the first round, the collective look of exuberance on the faces of John Dunne's players was more than enough validation. It sure took a while, but St. Peter's is back in the field.
A breakdown after the jump...
Location: Jersey City, New Jersey
Record: 20-13 (11-7)
Leading scorers:(12.8 ppg); (11.6); (10.6)
What to know:
- Offensive inadequacy and elite defensive ability are in stark contrast. Much like Florida State, the Peacocks can shut you down, force you into bad shots, and scoop up the errant rebounds with regularity. They epitomize a disciplined small conference school with their backs to the basket. Hardly surprising then, they rank among the top 40 nationally in defensive stats like 3P%, 2P%, FT%, Block%, and Steal%, a body of work that's good enough to make this the 21st most efficient defensive unit in the country according to KenPom.
- Of course, just like the aforementioned Seminoles, the Peacocks have serious issues creating their own shots and getting easy buckets at the other end. The only player to average more than two assists per night, 5'11" point guard Nick Leon, is only moderately successful at distributing the basketball, and mainly prefers to sit behind the arc and toss up 24-footers. Ironically he connected on 33.3% of his twos and 36.7% of his threes this year, so maybe he's in the right place after all. But over his last ten games, Leon dished out 30 assists and committed 29 turnovers. That just won't cut it around this time of year. Even though his numbers from that 10-game stretch were eerily similar to his season averages, the Peacocks need him to take on more of a distributor's role against an elite opponent.
- St. Peter's played in four non-conference games that deserve your attention: a seven-point loss to Old Dominion, a one-point win over Alabama, a 20-point beating at the hands of Seton Hall, and a narrow 3-point defeat to Rutgers. In the end, these are the types of games we look for. Opponents that have highly-touted, long, athletic players who spend their conference seasons battling against the top teams in the sport. For small schools everywhere, these are the most quantifiable litmus tests we have. With that said, none of those four opponents are even remotely close to the caliber of team that St. Peter's will likely draw in the opening round.
Projected seed: #16. Considering they were a bit of a shock to reach the dance, don't be surprised if we see this team get stuck in a play-in game for a 16-seed. And with a glaring red flag as a poor jump shooting unit on offense, a bracket-busting upset feels like an insurmountable task. Go ahead and file St. Peter's under the "we're just thrilled to be here" category.