Peacocks are typically deliberate creatures, which is only fitting given the nature of the Saint Peter’s variety.
While others in the MAAC have embraced an up-tempo philosophy – one which has admittedly worked out well for Iona, present in five of the last six conference championship games – Saint Peter’s has always been content to slow it down.
It was that philosophy which led John Dunne’s squad to a conference title over the Gaels in 2011, running the table from the 4-seed including a semifinal win over host team and regular season champion Fairfield. The Peacocks allowed no more than 60 points in any of their three games that tournament.
In retrospect, that three game winning streak and resulting trip to the NCAA Tournament is less of a shock when examining that team’s defensive metrics. The 2010-11 Saint Peter’s squad ranked second in the nation in Effective Field Goal Percentage, measured by KenPom.com. They also were second-best, holding opponents to 40.8% inside the arc and 15th in the nation beyond it, allowing just 30.6% of 3-pointers to fall.
Flash forward to this year’s squad, and though they’re not locking down opponents at nearly the same rate (opposing teams are shooting 52.2% inside the arc), the 2017 Peacocks are finding success in other ways.
Thus far, Saint Peter’s has been excellent at limiting opponents’ second-chance opportunities. The Peacocks are letting up just 23.6% of offensive rebounds, good for 13th in the country. Although that rate has fallen off a bit in conference play, through just five games the Peacocks have already seen some of the top frontcourts in the league with games against Iona, Manhattan, Monmouth, Siena and Quinnipiac.
In their 58-54 win over the Bobcats Monday night, the patented Quinnipiac glass-crashing was in full effect as Saint Peter’s let up 34% of offensive opportunities. However, the Peacocks were able to come away with the win by showcasing another strength of theirs: ball control.
Saint Peter’s is the only MAAC team outside of Monmouth to rank in the top 100 in turnover percentage on both sides of the ball. The Peacocks have turned the ball over on just 17.3% of offensive possessions, while forcing opponents to cough it up 21.1% of the time.
Through 15 contests this season, Saint Peter’s has committed fewer than 10 turnovers on five occasions while opponents have enjoyed just one such game. Absent a 26-turnover fiasco at Fordham (2nd in the nation behind only West Virginia in TO% and Steal %) in November, the Peacocks have had no more than 14 turnovers in any game this year.
The Peacocks’ tenacity in going after the ball plagued Quinnipiac’s young backcourt in the first half Monday, as Saint Peter’s allowed the Bobcats just 17 field goal attempts against 15 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Since MAAC Play resumed at the beginning of January, the Peacocks have forced 52 opposition turnovers while handing it over just 35 times themselves. That differential has led to home wins over Monmouth and Quinnipiac and a two-point road loss to Siena.
“We’re learning to win these grinds,” Dunne said after the win Monday night. “We were not grinding earlier in the year. We were just trying to outscore people. I know we’ve had a couple of games now in the 50’s, but we will score the ball before this year is over at a higher level. As long as we keep our grind mentality defensively, I think this team has a chance to continue to grow.”
While the MAAC gets faster and faster, Dunne’s crew is content to play that “grind it out” style. Despite Saint Peter’s ranking as one of the slowest teams in the nation (64.5 possessions per game and 19.7 seconds per possession), the MAAC as a whole tops the list of all conferences in adjusted tempo (73.3 possessions per game).
For now the game plan is working, and while the rest of the league tries to run full speed into March, the Peacocks may very well be right there again to grind them to a halt.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.