Embrace the afterglow, attack the aftermath. That’s a message the Seton Hall and St. Peter’s programs can carry from this magical postseason into the college basketball offseason.
Soon enough, expectations will emerge for both New Jersey schools regarding next year. Recruitment, workouts, meetings and the 2022-23 blueprint looms.
The questions will naturally follow:
- Can St. Peter’s parlay its improbable, electrifying stampede through March Madness into an encore?
- Can Seton Hall, which hired the architect of the run, coach Shaheen Holloway, leverage his popularity and Seton Hall roots to jump-start a program that has flattened out?
- Both teams face upgraded objectives as their recent celebrations recede.
Here are five takeaways from the Seton Hall-St. Peter’s connection to a made-in-New Jersey success story.
1. St. Peter’s celebrated the moment
This was not an April Fools joke. St. Peter’s honored its magical March Madness run with a parade on April 1 in Jersey City.
It featured more than 5,000 fans, floats, bagpipers and students dressed in the school’s main blue color waving signs reading “Jersey City tough.”
The event saluted St. Peter’s unprecedented run through the NCAA Tournament. It honored a team that became the first No. 15 seed ever to reach the Elite Eight, as it toppled national heavyweights Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue as major underdogs.
David defeated Goliath three times. In a row.
The parade reflected community euphoria. It connected with the face-painted, foot-stomping student body that celebrated the Purdue victory in its own gym, watching the game coming from Philadelphia.
The win occurred on a major open-house recruitment weekend for the school.
Perfect. Now what?
2. Seton Hall seeks energy blast from the past
Seton Hall, meanwhile, resembles someone touching a magic lamp in hopes that it rubs off.
The Pirates welcome the player who sparked their last Sweet 16 appearance in 2000 and they seek a push from its all-time assists leader. They also gave him a $2.4 million annual base for a six-year contract, an eight-fold increase from his salary at St. Peter’s.
How fitting to reward one of their own, a one-time player and assistant coach, with a life-changing deal?
The way both sides bridged the development is endearing. Holloway wasn’t jumping ship, bailing on the program he’d helped develop.
No, he was going home.
And his former players went with him, all of the roughly 12 miles between their campus in Jersey City to Seton Hall’s in South Orange.
Holloway’s acceptance of his new job in the presence of his recent former players formed a symbolic passing of the torch. He had the unique joy of celebrating two families.
3. Seton Hall’s Holloway is genuine and likable
Holloway is the captivating story of this year’s NCAA Tournament. He symbolizes St. Peter’s gritty persona and down-to-earth demeanor, which resonates with fans.
Some media outlets were overjoyed that he called into their shows after the St. Peter’s win over Kentucky.
The call didn’t come from a public-relations or NCAA representative. It came from Holloway himself. Talk about gaining high marks for being approachable.
Holloway remained 100% real at the press-conference announcing his Seton Hall signing. First, he chided the school about not retiring his number, some 20 years after he’d played there.
And then he made sure the St. Peter’s players got their props.
Like a guard slapping the ball from a defender’s hands, he implored the crowd to double-down on its first standing ovation for the St. Peter’s players in attendance.
“Come on Pirate nation, we can do much better than that,” he said during last week’s press conference. “These 15 young men right there. Stand Up. Get up!”
The sustained applause that followed was more to his liking.
It was vintage Holloway hustle, even from the podium. He is unpretentious, honest and able to maintain a balanced perspective.
Recapping the St. Peter’s Cinderella story
After the Peacocks shocked the world by beating Kentucky as an 18-point underdog, Holloway had been the least surprised observer. He was even less surprised after the second triumph.
“We went down there to win two games,” he said after St. Peter’s had dispatched Murray State to reach the Sweet 16.
“I tell my players to live in the moment, enjoy playing ball. Don’t look at the name of the jersey on the front. Do what you have been doing your whole life.”
Holloway added that nothing scared him, because the Peacocks had a lot of tough kids from New Jersey and New York. The coach who had not been drafted into the NBA inspired a hungry work ethic on his team.
He wants players who are under-recruited, overlooked and who play with a chip on their shoulder.
“All my guys think they belong in Kentucky,” he joked after the first St. Peter’s win. “So, I told them to go prove it.”
And he told the next Seton Hall team to be ready to work.
Holloway replaces Kevin Willard, who is the new University of Maryland head coach.
4. Holloway is a dyed-in-the-wool Seton Hall Pirate
Those 681 assists, going with 1,588 career points and Holloway’s presence in the Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Fame, indicates the fire-lighting ability he’ll try to instill as a coach.
Holloway takes over a Big East program that has been to five of the past six NCAA tournaments, but left early. It was another first-round exit this season.
The team is stuck one notch behind Villanova, which won two national championships in recent years and reached the Final Four again this season before losing to Kansas.
The last time the Pirates went to the Sweet Sixteen was in 2000, and Holloway was their point guard.
After his playing days were over, he became part of the Seton Hall coaching staff, but he then transferred to Iona College in 2007 under Willard. When Willard later became Seton Hall’s head coach, Holloway followed him back here as an assistant.
Four years ago, he got the job at St. Peters.
Four years later, he comes back to rekindle a spark where his roots are entrenched.
Holloway met his wife, Kim, in Xavier Hall and one of their sons bears the dormitory’s name. His daughter, Shatanik graduated from Seton Hall in 2018. At the press conference, he looked ready to start, calling a team meeting for immediately afterward.
5. This was an uplifting tale with no NJ sports betting attached
Unlike practically every sporting angle since the PASPA repeal in 2018, this one has no NJ sports betting component. Gaming regulations prohibit New Jersey gamblers from wagering on Garden State college teams or in venues hosting college games.
That brings a sweeter, perhaps more true sense of joy to New Jersey college basketball fans. Two programs were blessed by this development, walking a pathway New Jersey fans witnessed from the start.
It began with St. Peter’s seizing the MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City as the No. 2 seed just to obtain the mandatory conference berth.
It continued through the NCAA Tournament.
The St. Peter’s aftermath is a lightning-rod recruitment tool for the Peacocks. Once a team reaches this level, there will always be the belief that it can return.
The Seton Hall aftermath is gaining a new direction from an all-time favorite son.
There can be a belief for other New Jersey teams too. Rider, in Lawrenceville, knocked off No. 1 seed Iona in the MAAC. Monmouth, based in Long Branch, reached the finals of the MAAC and trailed St. Peter’s by only a bucket in the final minute.
The St. Peter’s march tells both of these teams that they were also on the cusp of something special.
For those programs, along with Seton Hall and St. Peter’s, the bar has been raised.
Let the off-season begin. Everyone has something to be excited about.