Once again, the clock has struck midnight on Cinderella. The Peacocks of St. Peter’s University, the lowest seeded team (15th) to ever reach the Elite Eight, went back home to Jersey City after a disappointing loss to the Tar Heels of UNC. They call it the Elite Eight for a reason, and it was no surprise that six of the teams in that round had been there before. Only Miami and St. Peter’s crashed the gate, and neither survived to move on to the Final Four. In fact, the schools that will play this weekend have a combined 60 Final Four appearances.
Almost half of the National Championships of this millennium have been won by this year’s Final Four cohort of North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Villanova. Even without considering their school colors, these are the blue bloods of college basketball.
The Cinderellas are the teams that make the tournament special and move the storyline away from things like Coach K’s final run for yet another (yawn) trophy, even if just for a brief shining moment. And if truth be told, St. Peter’s is maybe the most Cinderellish of all Cinderellas, and therefore the most worthy of their fifteen minutes of fame.
Several recent articles in Sports Illustrated pointed out the almost absurd circumstances surrounding the Peacocks basketball program and the improbability of their success even when compared to other Cinderellas. The Villanova team of 1986 had NBA players and a Hall of Fame coach leading them on their magical run to the Championship, and Davidson’s incredible 2008 march to the Elite Eight was propelled by the scoring prowess of a little guy known as Steph Curry.
Contrast that with this small Jesuit school from the MAAC, and if you already knew that MAAC stands for Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference then you are better informed than most of the people who watched their brackets blow up when the Peacocks defeated the Kentucky Wildcats, the bluest of all of the blue bloods in Division I basketball.
Since Coach Adolph Rupp cut down the nets in 1948 at Madison Square Garden - only minutes from the St. Peter’s campus just on the other side of the Hudson River - only the era of John Wooden at UCLA temporarily eclipsed the dominance of the Wildcats. In fact, UK is so far above St. Peter’s in the pecking order that the entire Peacock basketball budget is less than one-fifth of the annual salary of Wildcat coach John Calipari.
Yet, the coach of the Peacocks, Shaheen Holloway, has done what John Calipari has never done - beaten a team seeded 13 spots above him in the NCAA tournament. By the time you read this it is probable that Holloway, a former point guard at Seton Hall during his college days, will be making his return to Newark as the very well compensated new head coach of the Seton Hall Pirates. It would be a well deserved move and one that the folks in Jersey City could not blame him for making.
If he decides to follow the bright lights of the Big East, their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, and their multiple NCAA tournament bids, it is assumed that he will become a very successful coach whose face will be known to all who follow the game of college basketball. But, should (or is it “when”?) he move out of his flooded office at St. Peter’s (when the snow melts, the roof leaks) and joins the ranks of the elite, the blue bloods, then his Peacocks will most probably go back to basketball obscurity, remembered only as the answer to a tournament trivia question.
On Friday, April 1st, Jersey City will host a parade for Coach Holloway and his team. I can’t realistically expect that he will have signed a long term contract with St. Peter’s by then, but I truly hope that he is still their coach, at least until the parade ends. This Cinderella of Cinderellas, deserves that one last magical moment before the clock strikes midnight for the last time.