The Saint Peter’s Peacocks may be the most consistent team in the MAAC not named Monmouth. John Dunne’s squad went 14-6 in league play and won their final six contests of the year to capture the #2 seed in this weekend’s conference tournament.
As one of the top two seeds, Saint Peter’s will open play on Friday, then resume action Sunday should they win their quarterfinal matchup. The Peacocks will square off against the winner of Thursday’s showdown between #7 Canisius and #10 Marist Friday night at 9:30 p.m.
Player to watch: #35 Quadir Welton, Sr. C
Just how consistent has Saint Peter’s been? Their first league loss came in a 79-65 decision to Iona in the first game of league play in December. Since that point, their other five conference losses have come by a combined 10 points, including tough overtime defeats at Iona and Monmouth.
“We split in the league in December, which was good after that Iona game, and we were confident,” Dunne said on a league conference call Monday. “We got a lot of shots in that Iona game that we just missed, that we thought were makeable shots. Then we went out to Notre Dame and played them really tough after Christmas and got some confidence from that. As a coach, you’re always preaching ‘move the ball, share the ball, be team-first,’ and it’s up to the players to have chemistry and buy in, so all the credit goes to those guys.”
The Peacocks are a lockdown defensive team, and play in contrast to the up-tempo style of many of their MAAC counterparts. As such, just two Saint Peter’s players average double figures. Quadir Welton leads the team with 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while Trevis Wyche contributes 11.2 ppg and is the team’s leading facilitator with 3.8 assists per game.
Earlier this week, Welton was named to the all-MAAC First Team while Wyche made a second consecutive appearance on the all-MAAC Second Team.
“Really all four years, he’s just improved so dramatically,” Dunne said of Welton. “He’s a guy that’s not going out there trying to get numbers; he’s a guy going out there to win. If he’s crowded in the post, if he’s double-teamed in the post, he’s finding the open guy in most instances. If he’s not getting the assist, he’s getting the hockey assist.”
Despite averaging just 5.2 ppg, Chazz Patterson shines as Peacocks’ lead defender. The senior routinely takes the defensive assignment on opposing teams’ top players and has earned a reputation as a lockdown defender and candidate for MAAC Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m not usually one to politick for things… but I really believe that Chazz is deserving,” Dunne said of Patterson’s consideration for the league’s top defensive honor. “I’ve been in this league a long time and guards don’t get recognized enough for what they bring to the table, but we’re a very good defensive team, he’s the best defensive player on our team. He’s a glove defensively, he’s always on the other team’s best player. I think he would get robbed if he wasn’t Defensive Player of the Year.”
Although the MAAC as a whole ranks fifth among all conferences in tempo, Saint Peter’s is one of the nation’s slowest teams. In fact, just four squads – Virginia, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross – average fewer possessions per game than the Peacocks. During conference play, Saint Peter’s averaged just under 63 possessions per game. Among league teams, Marist was the only other squad to average fewer than 70.
Forcing opponents into fewer possessions per game allows the Peacocks to enforce their defensive will. According to KenPom.com, Saint Peter’s leads the MAAC in defensive efficiency and are the best at taking the ball away with an 11.4% steal percentage.
Dunne’s squad is also the best in the league at defending the long ball. They allow league opponents to shoot just 32.6% from 3-point range, and are second-best by letting up on just 45.9% of opponents’ opportunities inside the arc.
While this year’s cast doesn’t approach the same defensive prowess possessed by the 2011 squad that won the MAAC tournament, the 2017 Saint Peter’s squad is far and away Dunne’s most potent offensive team. This year’s Peacocks connect on 38.5% of their 3-point attempts, good for 34th in the nation, and during conference play have increased that percentage to 41.1%. Only Iona (42.2%) is more efficient from behind the arc.
In Dunne’s 11 year tenure with the Peacocks, the current year’s team is the only one to own an effective field goal percentage over 48%. This year, Saint Peter’s checks in at 51.0% in the category, thanks largely to their prowess behind the arc.
Four Peacocks place in the top 18 three-point shooters in the league. Nick Griffin, a junior transfer from George Washington, leads the way and ranks fourth in the league at 44%. Meanwhile, sophomore Sam Idowu has become a lethal weapon for Dunne as a 6-foot-7 forward who connects at 42% from 3-point range.
“We lost a couple guys off last year’s roster and we added three guys who all could shoot and put the ball in the basket,” Dunne added. “We’ve had much more depth than we’ve had in the past.”
In one of the league’s more curious stats, Griffin has not missed a free throw this season. Despite being the Peacocks’ third-leading scorer at 9.5 ppg, the Maryland native has taken just 22 attempts from the charity stripe this year.
Saint Peter’s swept Marist by an average of 20.5 ppg in the regular season, but split the season series with Canisius. Freshman Malik Johnson delivered the Golden Griffins a thrilling 72-70 win with a last-second layup in Jersey City February 6, but the Peacocks earned revenge with a 72-65 victory in Buffalo on the final day of the regular season.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.