PHILADELPHIA (AP) – America loves March Madness because America loves an outsider.
A twist: while tiny Saint Peter’s run to the top of the Final Four was compelling, it’s also the latest example of how something that once felt like a miracle at the NCAA tournament could become increasingly common in the years to come .
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The Peacocks, who play No. 8 North Carolina on Sunday and have a trip to New Orleans at stake, have joined Florida Gulf Coast and Oral Roberts as the third No. 15 in a decade reaches the tournament’s second weekend. Since the group expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the 15 seeds have held a record 14-140. Eight of those 14 wins have been achieved since 2012.
Coach Shaheen Holloway’s Peacocks are the first 15 to make the Elite Eight. And while America embraces the history of St. Peter’s, who wouldn’t love a 2,200-student commuter school on a busy Jersey City street trying to tighten the screws on Tobacco Road? – the peacocks themselves suck it up without taking this sowing so seriously.
“Some of these guys feel like they belong in schools like that,” said Holloway, whose team started that run by beating Kentucky and beating Purdue on Friday night.
Four years ago, the unthinkable stopped being unthinkable during March Madness. A 16 seed, UMBC, topped No. 1 Virginia in the first round. That year, three of the four No. 1s after the Sweet 16 were gone. Only Kansas, who play 10th-seeded Miami on Sunday, remains.
Explanations for the ever increasing parity in college hoops come from all angles.
Holloway is among those who say the era of one-and-done resulting from the rule allowing players to enter the NBA draft after a year of college may have subtly shifted the advantage to programs who don’t follow these types of players and so spend time together to build a team.
“With all these great players, you get the Kentuckys of the world,” said Ken Kavanagh, Florida Gulf Coast athletic director. “Yeah, it worked out well with Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse 2003), but it didn’t work out so well with other teams because you’re playing against older teams, teams that have been playing together for four years.”
Another factor is the recently liberalized transfer rules, which allow players to change schools without having to take a year off. Some see this as an element that could also affect team building.
“It’s kids who want to get closer to home,” said Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, who led George Mason to the 2006 Final Four in 11th place. “Or, ‘I’m on the bench somewhere, but I think I could start at the other school.'”
Another part of this development comes from the proliferation of AAU and summer leagues, which familiarize all players with one another before they ever set foot on a college floor. Although their programs couldn’t be more different, it won’t be the first time the Saint Peter’s players meet the North Carolina boys on Sunday; The Tar Heels list includes three McDonald’s All-Americans in Caleb Love, RJ Davis and Armando Bacot.
“We definitely played most of these guys,” said Peacocks forward KC Ndefo. “At the end of the day, it’s just basketball.”
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However, nothing seems to make basketball more beautiful than when teams come “out of nowhere”.
Remember Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug? His North Carolina state team, who brought the word “Cinderella” into the March Madness dance, was a 6 seed (in a 52-team field). Two years later, Rollie Massimino’s Villanova underdogs landed in eighth place when they beat Georgetown.
Butler’s outsider history at a small school — the team that worked out at the gym where they shot “Hoosiers” — was a beauty. The Bulldogs were 5 seeds when they reached the national finals in 2010.
Wichita State made the 2013 Final Four in 9th place. Before that, VCU and George Mason of Larrañaga finished 11th.
UCLA made it 11th last year. But it’s UCLA.
North Carolina could make it 8th this year. But it’s North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 8 1/2 point favorites against Saint Peter’s according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“The coach told us he never looked at the seeding and never really cared,” said Bacot, whose team has now hit a No. 1 (Baylor) and a 4 (UCLA) and down to just one Game removed from the program’s 21st Final Four.
Nonetheless, there is something magical about that number – “15” – that sits next to the name “Saint Peter’s” on the bracket.
It always will be, Holloway insists, whether this is the last time a team like his comes this close — or the first of many more to come.
“Yes, we are the underdogs. Yes, we are the Cinderella team,” Holloway said. “But at the end of the day we are a team that develops just like everyone else. You take the name off the front of the shirt, it really doesn’t matter.”
By EDDIE PELLS AP National Author… AP Sports writers John Marshall and Jay Cohen contributed to this report.
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https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2022/03/26/miracle-trend-saint-peters-sign-parity-ncaa/ Miracle or trend? Saint Peter A sign of parity in the NCAA – CBS Pittsburgh