Last year, one of the biggest moments of March Madness was when No. 15 Saint Peter’s University stunned No. 2 seed Kentucky University in the first round of the tournament, being one of the greatest upsets in the tournament’s history. They proved not to be just a one-hit wonder as they turned around and won again against No. 7 seed Murray State.
With this Cinderella run, Saint Peter’s became the third No. 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16 at the time. They were also the first team from New Jersey to be in the Sweet 16 since Seton Hall in 2000. On that 2000 Seton Hall team was Saint Peter’s head coach, Shaheen Halloway, who was the starting point guard.
No. 15 Saint Peter’s magic carried against No. 3 Purdue, ending the Boilermakers’ season in a dramatic fashion, and only by three points. Saint Peter’s would fall to the University of North Carolina, as the Tar Heels cruised past them, 69-49. Not quite the ending fans wanted to see.
At the time it was believed that it would probably be a very long time before anybody saw anything comparable to what the Saint Peter’s Peacocks did in the NCAA Tournament again, especially a team from New Jersey. However, both Princeton University and Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) had different plans.
If there wasn’t a rule where teams who transition into Division I have to wait four years to be eligible for the NCAA tourney,
Merrimack College would have been dancing instead of FDU, because they won the North Eastern Conference regular-
season and tournament titles.
Yet FDU did not fail to take advantage of their opportunity, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. The underdog Knights stunned top-seeded Purdue 63-58 becoming the second No. 16 seed to win a game in March Madness.
Purdue joined the University of Virginia from 2018 as the only No. 1 seeds to lose to a No. 16 seed. Five years ago, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County beat Virginia in the first 16-over-1 victory. The Knights have become the third straight double-digit seed to send the Boilermakers home. With all other top seeds advancing this year, No. 1 seeds are now 150-2 against No. 16 draws.
In the second round, FDU went on to play No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic University but came up just shy of winning as they fell 78-70 to the Owls. It took the Owls giving everything to finally be able to put away the Knights in the end, who refused to go down without a fight.
As for Princeton, it seemed remarkable that they had made it as far as they did. Two years ago, teams returned to the courts after COVID-19 canceled the 2020 basketball postseason, but the eight Ivy League teams never played a minute in the 2020-21 season, Princeton was one of them. However, Princeton went from being shut down to shocking the entire world.
No. 15 Princeton made it to the second weekend of March after upsetting Arizona, 59-55, as well as Missouri, 78-63. It was Princeton’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 1967. Princeton’s coach, Mitch Henderson, has been a part of Princeton madness before though. He was a player for Pete Carril, having played for him in the 1990s and being a member of the Tigers team that famously shocked reigning national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 tourney.
Princeton became the fourth No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, joining Florida Gulf Coast (2013), Oral Roberts (2021) and Saint Peter’s (2022). They also made it the third year in a row a No. 15 seed reached the Sweet 16 and were the first Ivy League team to make it this far in 13 years.
Princeton’s magical run did come to end in the Sweet 16 as Creighton defeated them 86-75. The Tigers went down swinging and giving their all until time expired.
While Saint Peter’s joined the list of schools who have etched themselves into March Madness folklore last year, both FDU and Princeton have followed in their footsteps this year. The schools may be different sizes, have different campus styles and be known for different things, but the one thing they all have in common is being bracket busters from New Jersey.
Featured photo courtesy of @CanesHoops, Twitter