Children around the world have read stories about “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Cinderella” which are stories that apply to the current NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament run made by St. Peter’s Peacocks.
Following in the path of the 1982-83 North Carolina State Wolfpack’s unlikely run that earned Coach Jimmy Valvano an NCCA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament championship in his third season as head coach of the Wolfpack, the Peacocks spread their wings to become the only No. 15 seed in tournament history to reach the Elite Eight.
St. Peter’s pulled the ultimate upset in the first round of the tournament by defeating the University of Kentucky Wildcats in overtime 85-79. The Wildcats, one of the most storied programs in NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball history with eight national championships, second only to UCLA’s 11, was the No. 2 seed with a record of 26-6 after going 14-4 in the Southeastern Conference.
Next, the Peacocks disposed of Murray State University’s Racers, the winningest NCAA Division I men’s basketball team in the nation that had posted a 32-2 record. The Peacocks outscored the Racers by five points in each half of the game to come away with a 70-60 upset victory.
The Peacocks’ third upset of the tournament came when Saint Peter’s upended the Purdue Boilermakers 67-64. Purdue was listed at one point during the season as the AP’s No. 1 team in the nation. That ranking was a first for the Boilermakers, a Big Ten Conference team that went into the game with a 29-7 record overall and a 14-6 record in Big Ten Conference play.
However, Saint Peter’s quest to become the first No. 15 seed to win a trip to the Final Four came to an abrupt end after the Peacocks fell behind early to the North Carolina Tar Heels and trailed the entire game before losing 69-49.
By comparison to the 1982-83 Wolfpack, Valvano’s squad was a Cinderella team that saw Dreck Whittenburg break his foot in the first Atlantic Coast Conference game against the University of Virginia when he came down from shooting a jump shot and landed on Othell Wilson’s foot.
The injury kept the shooting guard on the sidelines while he healed. However, Whittenburg returned to the lineup by tournament time.
The Wolfpack struggled without Whittenburg in the lineup, going 10-7 without him, and by ACC Tournament time, Valvano’s team faced elimination from NCAA Tournament play unless the Wolfpack won the ACC Tournament.
The Wolfpack’s Cinderella run began the first game of the ACC Tournament when the Wolfpack edged past No. 5 seed, Wake Forest, by a 71-70 score.
Next, Valvano’s team faced the No. 1 seed, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and the miracle run continued with the Wolfpack’s 91-84 overtime upset victory.
Ralph Sampson led the University of Virginia to the ACC championship game where Valvano’s Wolfpack continued its string of miracle wins with an 81-78 victory.
The Wolfpack was sent to compete in the West Region in Corvallis, Oregon’s Gill Coliseum where Jim Harrick’s West Coast Conference champions, Pepperdine University was seeded No. 11, appeared to have the win in its pocket only to see a late Wolfpack rally tie the game and send it into overtime. The Wolfpack prevailed to win in overtime 69-67.
Next, the Wolfpack faced No. 6 seed, UNLV. The “Runnin’ Rebels” had a 28-2 record before losing to the Wolfpack that upset Jerry Tarkanian’s team 71-70.
Number 10 seed, Utah, was the next to fall to the Wolfpack that enjoyed its only easy victory of the tournament, a 75-56 win.
Valvano’s Cinderella team found yet another way to defeat the University of Virginia team led by 7’ 4” Sampson, one of the premier players in the nation. The Wolfpack triumphed over No. 4 seed UVA, 63-62.
In the Final Four, the Wolfpack prevailed over the University of Georgia 67-60 before facing the No. 1 seed, the University of Houston’s Cougars that had a 31-2 record.
Valvano’s team was again the underdog, but the miracle run was completed on April 3, 1983, when the “Cardiac Pack” shocked the basketball world by upsetting the Cougars 54-52.
The difference between the Cinderella teams, the Wolfpack and the Peacocks, is that the Peacocks came out of a conference that had never had one of its teams reach the Elite Eight.
The Wolfpack had a storied basketball history that included the Wolfpack’s national championship that dethroned John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins that was led by Bill Walton in the semi-finals to end UCLA’s seven-year national championship-winning streak.
The David Thompson led Wolfpack defeated UCLA in double overtime 80-77 and went on to beat Marquette 76-64 to win the 1973-74 season’s championship.
While Cinderella’s glass slipper fit the Wolfpack 39 years ago, the Peacocks made NCAA Division I men’s basketball history by reaching the Elite Eight but will not have a chance to wear Cinderella’s slipper.
None of the current Final Four teams qualify as a Cinderella team. North Carolina, Duke, Villanova and Kansas have all won national championships.
North Carolina won national championships in 1924, 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017, trailing only Kentucky with eight and UCLA with 11 for total championships won.
As for North Carolina’s arch-rival, Duke, the Blue Devils have won five: 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015.
Kansas has three men’s national basketball championship trophies in its trophy case: 1952, 1988 and 2008.
Villanova has won three as well: 1985, 2016 and 2018.
With 18 NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship trophies in their respective trophy cases, none of the four teams in the Final Four qualify as a Cinderella team.
The following Cinderella teams have enjoyed NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball upset victories only to lose prior to going to the Elite Eight: George Mason, 2006; Davidson, 2008; Butler, 2010 and 2011; Florida Gulf Coast, 2013; Loyola Chicago, 2018; UMCC, 2018; and Oral Roberts 2021.
Without trying on Cinderella’s glass slipper, the Peacocks will go home to their Run Baby Run Arena in Jersey City, having made history by advancing farther than any 15 seed in NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament history.