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March Madness: Can Saint Peter’s really beat Purdue in the Sweet 16? The candid analysis of a coach

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After beating Kentucky, anything seems possible for the Saint Peter University basketball team in Friday’s Eastern Region semifinals.

But beating Purdue really stretches the line.

That’s the opinion of a head coach who took on the Boilermakers this season and, like much of the college basketball world, has been closely watching this Sweet 16 David vs. Goliath.

“Would this be a bigger upset than the win over Kentucky? I think so,” said the coach, whose name has been withheld so he can speak freely. “It’s a really tough matchup with the size of Purdue. Purdue plays hard. They have a very good coach.”

A couple of hundred fans welcome home players from the Saint Peter University men’s basketball team on Sunday, March 20, 2022, in Jersey City after their victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Unlike Kentucky, the third-seeded Boilermakers won’t be surprised at how tough and aggressive the 15th-seeded Peacocks are.

“Shaheen Holloway has done a great job and will have his guys ready to go,” the coach said. “Sha will do a good job changing defenses. Against Kentucky they were aggressive and Kentucky was on their heels.”

Against Purdue, the coach said, “you’re going to have to pick your poison” on defense. “Are you going to double post and let three get fired or not double post and give up two?”

Given the staff at San Pedro, the coach said, there really isn’t an option.

“I don’t think San Pedro can take both of us away,” said the coach. “I know the guy (San Pedro postman KC Ndefo) is a good defender, but 6-7 against 7-4 (Zach Edey) doesn’t add up. Edey is so big you can’t really face him. He would just get on the perimeter of him and not let three of them go.”

Purdue's Zach Edey gets past Yale's Matthue Cotton during the second half of an NCAA college basketball tournament first-round game Friday, March 18, 2022, in Milwaukee.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Purdue’s Zach Edey gets past Yale’s Matthue Cotton during the second half of an NCAA college basketball tournament first-round game Friday, March 18, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Purdue boasts the second-highest offensive efficiency rating in the country. The Boilermakers shoot 49 percent from 2-point range and 39 percent from 3-point land.

“They are the only team I played for this year that can do a little bit of everything,” the coach said. “They have two big guys who can score (6-foot-10 Edey and Trevion Williams) surrounded by guys who can make 3-pointers. And once they get (point guard) Jaden Ivey going downhill, forget it. He is the most athletic point guard in the country.

“They have all the tools to win the national championship. I’ve been thinking about it all year.”

Holloway, whose Peacocks play a tight man-to-man defense, impressed his coaching brothers by taking out a matchup zone against Kentucky, with excellent results.

“With Purdue’s zoned offense, they’re going to put Edey in the low block, he’s going to duck and he’s a big target, so they’re going to throw it to him,” the coach said. “They have a very good zone offense because he is so big.”

What could help San Pedro threaten an upset, in this coach’s mind? Hit jump shots, especially mid-range shots that are likely to give up Purdue’s defense. And a loose whistle, to allow the peacocks to exert the full force of their physique.

“If the whistle is blown, Purdue will have a big advantage,” the coach said.

“At least Sha has a week to prepare,” he said. “That’s better than one day against a team like this.”

There is also the intangible of being Cinderella.

“The thing with Sha and Saint Peter is that they have nothing to lose,” the coach said. “The problem with Purdue is that he has to win a national championship or his fans will kill him. Sha has house money, so one team can lose a lot and the other team has all the pressure. That’s what happened with Kentucky. Saint Peter’s was having fun and Kentucky was in the dentist’s chair.”

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: March Madness Sweet 16: Can Saint Peter’s Really Beat Purdue?

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