The 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has become the maddest of all March Madnesses. The St. Peter’s Peacocks have taken down Kentucky, Murray State, and most recently Purdue to become the first 15 seed ever to reach the Elite Eight.
Now they face college basketball blue blood North Carolina who, as a No. 8 seed, has been forced to produce a few upsets of its own to reach this point.
So it’s a tiny Jesuit school in New Jersey vs. a program with six National Championships and a roster packed with four- and five-star recruits.
What are the three keys to perhaps the most historic matchup in NCAA Tournament history?
UNC’s massive rebounding advantage
For years now — decades, really — the Tar Heels’ basketball program has been predicated on big men and rebounding.
First-year head coach Hubert Davis has modernized UNC’s game, but the Heels still want to crash the boards.
This year, junior center Armando Bacot led the ACC in rebounding at 12.5 per game. St. Peter’s will be at a significant disadvantage in this department.
The Peacocks have two players who averaged more than six rebounds during the regular season: Fousseyni Drame at 6.4 and KC Ndefo at 6.1.
Bacot has upped his average to 13.7 rebounds during the tournament, 5.3 of which come on the offensive end.
The Peacocks don’t have a single player in the top 100 in rebounds per game through the first three rounds.
As a team, Carolina is second in the tournament at 47.3 boards per night. The Peacocks are tied for 41st at 33 per game.
If Bacot — not to mention 6-foot-9 Brady Manek — can crash the offensive glass and create extra possessions while forcing St. Peter’s to go one-and-done on the other end, the Peacocks will be in for a long night.
Three-point shooting is March Madness’s great equalizer
This is the only area where St. Peter’s statistically lands near the Tar Heels during the 2022 Tournament.
UNC hasn’t been a great three-point shooting squad all year. The Heels are shooting 37.4% from deep on 30 attempts per game through the first three rounds.
The Peacocks are only slightly behind, hitting 35.3% of their 17 attempts per game. But with the size advantage stated above, Shaheen Holloway’s team could be forced to launch more shots from deep.
If St. Peter’s can keep itself in the game by hitting a decent percentage from beyond the arc, anything can happen in the final few minutes. The Peacocks have shown themselves immune to pressure.
The great equalizer could become the most critical area of tonight’s game.
The Peacocks’ balanced attack vs. UNC’s one-person shows
Ndefo and Daryl Banks III were the only double-digit scorers for St. Peter’s during the regular season. But the team has been more balanced offensively during the tournament, getting big shots at big times from several different players.
Banks went off for 27 points in the opening-round upset of Kentucky, while Doug Edert and his famous mustache added 20.
Then Ndefo had 17 in the Round of 32, and Banks had 14 against Purdue on Friday night.
St. Peter’s is averaging 74 points per game as a team through the first three rounds — 19th best in the tournament. Banks is scoring 15.7 a night — more than Bacot and UNC guard RJ Davis.
Edert is averaging 14.3 points. Ndefo is averaging 9.3.
The Peacocks have spread the wealth and been one of the best offenses of all 68 teams.
The Tar Heels sit atop the field in scoring at 87.0 points a night, but the way they’ve gotten there has not included the word “balanced.”
Manek had 28 points in Carolina’s opening-round win over Marquette. Then Davis scored 30 in an upset of No. 1 seed Baylor, and Caleb Love had 30 against UCLA in the Sweet 16.
For the most part, it’s been a single player carrying the Tar Heels’ offense in each round. If someone doesn’t get hot against the Peacocks and St. Peter’s continues to get production from a handful of different sources, we could witness the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.
Let the (March) madness continue.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.