After winning the MAAC Tournament title on Saturday, Saint Peter's punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years. As a reward on Selection Sunday, the Peacocks received their first-round matchup.
The John Calipari-led Kentucky Wildcats.
Saint Peter's face the eight-time NCAA Champion Wildcats on Thursday night in Indianapolis. While it seems a tall task for the Peacocks as a 15 seed, the two seed has fallen to a 15-seed nine times. Heck, there's even an ESPN documentary about Coppin State's upset of South Carolina in 1997.
As the kid in Angels in the Outfield said, "Hey, it could happen." Here is how Saint Peter's can pull the upset and advance in March Madness.
Saint Peter's Needs To Continue Defensive Genius
Simply put, the Peacocks have to play solid defense. Saint Peter's ranked 19th in the country in scoring defense (61.8) and fourth in opponents' field goal percentage (38.3). The team's calling card is defense, which needs to be the main focus for the Peacocks. Forcing bad shots and turnovers will lead to easy baskets and give Saint Peter's the ability to slow the game's tempo significantly. When Robert Morris defeated Kentucky in the 2013 NIT, they forced 14 turnovers and held the Wildcats to just 20 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Kentucky averaged 71 possessions per game and 80 points per game, so the Peacocks need to move at an old-school Pete Carril Princeton pace. Keep the ball away from Kentucky and you have a shot.
Shots Need To Fall
Ranked 234th in the county in field goal percentage, Saint Peter's is shooting 44 percent, which isn't terrible. The problem with facing Kentucky is that you need to shoot better than you usually would, and that means looking for the best shots possible and not taking rushed, difficult shots with the shot clock running down.
Saint Peter's head coach Shaheen Holloway said that guard Doug Edert has a green light to shoot when he is on the floor. Against Kentucky, Edert will have the green light, but he will also need to use discretion and apply a red light when needed. Daryl Banks III and Matthew Lee also need to get open and hit shots to put the pressure on Kentucky. Saint Peter's during the season always seemed to hit big shots when they needed to, and that needs to continue on Thursday night.
KC Ndefo Needs To Play Like An All-American
Ndefo was named second-team All-MAAC in a surprise to many. After the MAAC Tournament title, Holloway said that "it was a shame that he wasn't first-team All-MAAC" as Ndefo won the tournament MVP. The 6'7" forward has some motivation for going into the NCAA Tournament.
While he doesn't put up the numbers like Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (15.1 ppg, 15.1 rpg), Ndefo plays defense like no one else in the nation. He is Saint Peter's best rebounder and can score when called on. The Peacocks will need to lean on Ndefo, and he has proven time and time again that he can shoulder the load for Saint Peter's. For example, look back at the game against Niagara when he scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
The odds are stacked against Saint Peter's, but it is not impossible to pull the upset. Kentucky is not unbeatable, but the Peacocks need to play an almost perfect game to make history in Indiana on Thursday.
Catch the 15 seed Saint Peter's face the two seed Kentucky Wildcats on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. on CBS. Stick with Jersey Sporting News for complete coverage of Saint Peter's matchup against the Wildcats.