A common saying in sports is that “defense wins championships.” Ken Pomeroy’s database goes back to 2002 and every single national champion since then has finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency.
Rarely do teams from the bottom half of his conference rankings even make the Top 100 in this stat. Saint Peter’s was one of those rare teams, ranking 80th last season while the MAAC was the 21st-best conference. A similarly strong defense in 2020-21 could have the Peacocks dancing for the first time in a decade.
Third-year coach Shaheen Holloway is not one of the more established coaches in the league, but he has shown one key sign of building a winning program: top-level defense.
In his first season, the Peacocks finished out strong, winning three of their last four regular-season games. Last season, they won eight of their last nine, including an upset victory over Iona in the MAAC Tournament.
A lot of that success stems from the defensive play of junior K.C. Ndefo.
Ndefo committed to Holloway’s program the summer that he landed in Jersey City. Although he led his team to a state title in 2016 and won the Nassau Championship in 2017, the Peacocks were his only Division I offer.
Having something to prove, he finished second in league play in block percentage during his freshman season. The next year, he was named MAAC Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year. He ranked first in the league in block% and was only the third player in league history to win two major awards in one season.
It is a block party when Ndefo is around the rim. This season, he has 16 in six games, ranking 11th nationally in block%.
For a kid who is 6-7, 195 pounds, he isn’t the tallest or heaviest, but proves his will.
Holloway can also out-recruit larger programs. That was shown when he landed the Drame brothers from Mali, in 2019. Fousseyni had offers from both Tulane and Rutgers. Along with him, he brought in a really good player in his brother, Hassan.
The brothers led Mali to the 2019 U19 Basketball World Cup Championship. In that event, Fousseyni averaged 12 points and nine rebounds per game. That was good for sixth in rebounding and 25th in scoring, overall.
Fousseyni was also one of two Peacocks last season to start at least 25 games and play in all 30. Along with this, he won MAAC Rookie of the Week on three separate occasions. This season, he won his first MAAC Player of the Week during opening week.
In an upset victory over La Salle at the start of the season, Fousseyni led the team with 19 points. He ranked fourth in league play in offensive rating last season.
His brother Hassan won MAAC Rookie of the Week twice last season, and was top 100 nationally in both offensive and defensive rating.
In a game against LIU during non-conference play last season, Hassan pulled down 17 rebounds. That was good for one of his three double-digit rebounding games.
On the offensive end, another sophomore, Daryl Banks, won a Rookie of the Week honor in 2019-20. He started 21 games and led the Peacocks with eight double-digit scoring games.
This year, he already has four double-digit scoring games, in six attempts, and is shooting 14-30 from deep.
Saint Peter’s is young and showed a lot of potential, finishing second in the league last season. The Peacocks have shown signs already of being the team who finished in the top 100 of seven KenPom defensive categories. They rank in the top 100 in six categories this year.
Holloway has also shown in two years of constant improvement that he can coach with the very best in this league. The next step is to bring the Peacocks to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.