At this point, it’s clear that Saint Peter’s basketball isn’t your ordinary No. 15 seed, that it can hang out with the big boys, that it has a very real chance of beating North Carolina in the East Region finals. today (5:05 pm, CBS) for a spot in the Final Four.
Still, it’s jarring to hear from a coaching staff member whose team faced both the Peacocks and Tar Heels this season to give underdogs better than long shots at New Orleans.
“With the way San Pedro defends, they can play with anyone,” said the coach, whose name is being withheld so he can speak frankly. “They take on the identity of their coach, their city and the makeup of those kids. They are the best defensive team we’ve seen all season. They have a chance because of how they defend.”
What makes them so good? Consistency.
“You’re going to have to run your stuff. They’re not falling apart,” the coach said. “They will make small adjustments within the game, but they believe what they believe. They do not believe in duplicating the position. They don’t want to leave shooters.”
All of that is obvious on tape. However, at the other extreme, Saint Peter’s has surprised those who seek them.
“What’s so interesting with them offensively, if you look at their Kenpom ratings, this is an average offensive team,” the coach said. “They don’t run complicated things, but they do a good job of picking matchups.”
The biggest challenge for North Carolina players, he said, is taking San Pedro seriously enough.
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Opponents look at the front of the shirt ‘and see San Pedro’
“You can tell these guys until you’re blue in the face, but they look at the name on the front of the jersey and they see San Pedro,” the coach said.
And they don’t look like much on the layup line, so to speak.
“KC Ndefo and those two twins (Drame) may be an inch or two shorter than their listed height,” the trainer said. “But they are so long and active. They play much bigger and stronger than they are.”
As for North Carolina, the coach is impressed by how much the Tar Heels have improved.
“This is not the same Carolina team that we saw (earlier in the season), not even close,” he said. “You saw the potential in them because of their offensive talent. Defensively they were very, very bad at that time of year. They weren’t even competitive defensively. It was a bit embarrassing.
“But you saw the offensive firepower. Over the last six weeks, they’ve figured him out defensively and really hit his stride.”
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The keys for the Peacocks against North Carolina, he said, are dictating pace (the Tar Heels are 36th in the country in pace), avoiding foul trouble and keeping shooting guard Caleb Love from taking over.
“It’s a cliché to say, but they’re not a normal eighth seed,” the coach said.
The wild card is how North Carolina responds if Saint Peter’s holds out well into the second half.
“Will you have guys looking around thinking, ‘Is this really happening? said the coach.
We’ve seen that look on the faces of three of Peacock’s enemies so far at the Grand Ball.
“If Carolina is running flat out, it’s going to be tough for Saint Peter’s,” the coach said. “But (the Peacocks) play like they should in these games. It’s a bit of irrational confidence, but it’s a testament to those kids and their coach. What she has done there is crazy.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the pace of college basketball since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Anonymous Coach’s Saint Peter’s North Carolina Preview