On St. Patrick’s Day they will line up at 7:10 p.m. to face one of the college game’s bluebloods. Saint Peter’s will take the Gainbridge Fieldhouse floor in Indianapolis to face Kenucky. Bluebloods vs. a team opponents may not know. But soon respect facing them.
Shortly after the Selection Sunday Show revealed Saint Peter’s opponent, coach Shaheen Holloway admitted the obvious saying, "I know Kentucky is a great program with a great tradition. I know coach (John Calipari) Cal is a great coach. Other than that I have homework to do on them. I’ll present my team with a scouting report in the morning."
Kentucky, the second seed in the East Region comes in with a 26-7 record. The Wildcats were eliminated in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament by eventual champion Tennessee. Facing them is a daunting task. One Holloway feels his group is ready to face.
‘Since I have been here we have scheduled tough non-conference opponents," he said. "We have gone to NC State, Clemson, Auburn, St. John’s, Providence and VCU. Our guys are not scared, they are ready." Holloway, who played in the NCAA Tournament during his Seton Hall days added," as a player from your youngest days, this is what you dream of. This is why you play. To be a part of March Madness"
Holloway feels this is a game where Saint Peter’s is not only representing Jersey City and ‘New Jersey’s Jesuit University’ but the entire MAAC. "The MAAC is a great league and underrated," Holloway said. "There are great coaches, top to bottom. It’s very competitive. It’s amazing, I don’t know why this league doesn’t get more respect." Saint Peter’s defeated Monmouth 60-54 in the MAAC Tournament final in Atlantic City on Saturday. Following the game Holloway received congratulatory texts from the other MAAC coaches. The league is competitive and there is camaraderie among the ranks.
The victory left Holloway emotional on several counts. First, the satisfaction of ascending to the championship. There were those four years ago telling Holloway not to take the job when John Dunne left for Marist. Holloway saw it all from a half full perspective. A challenge yes, also a certainty he would be successful at the Jersey City based school. Next, the feelings for his opponent on the other bench, King Rice.
"We are very good friends," Holloway spoke of the Monmouth mentor. "He is an excellent coach and we talk frequently. A lot of our conversations are about basketball but many are non-basketball, about life in general." Monmouth is leaving the MAAC for the Colonial Athletic Association next season. "I know he (Rice) wanted to go out with a bang," Holloway said. "I know he was disappointed. Losing Monmouth will be a loss for us (MAAC membership)."
Down the stretch Saint Peter’s’ defensive effort stepped up to another level. In the MAAC tournament through three games the average offensive efficiency allowed by the Peacocks was 89, an elite number. . Offensively, Holloway admitted, there can be some improvement. Without knowing Kentucky personnel and tendencies, Hollloway simply promised, "we will play the way Saint Peter’s plays. It’s tournament time, anything is possible. Just play."
Saint Peter’s will do just that, with fellow MAAC coaches tuning in and rooting for them as well.