St. Peter’s Elite Eight Appearance Sets Imprint In March Madness History

When is it fitting for a team that lost its last game by 20 points to be honored in a parade?

This time.

St. Peter’s, the Jersey City-based Cinderella story of the NCAA tournament, receives a salute to its improbable tournament run Friday.

It’s not a parade similar to Super Bowl, NBA, World Series, or Stanley Cup achievements of professional teams.

This city jaunt cheers a college basketball squad that brought March Madness underdog fever to a new height. It celebrates the Peacocks becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight.

It recognizes a team that sent shock waves through the national sportsbook landscape, flirting with the multi-million dollar carnage it would have inflicted by winning it all.

And it honors an unheralded team, which needed to win the MAAC tournament in Atlantic City just to reach the Big Dance and then selected its own music.

St. Peter’s Improbable March Madness Run

St. Peter’s knocked off proverbial powers Kentucky and Purdue, along with one-time Cinderella Murray State.

The 69-49 loss to North Carolina Sunday night did not dim the perspective. Because that game, lopsided as it was, had a Final Four bid attached to it.

St. Peter’s? Yes.

St. Peter’s not only embodied the Cinderella charm of the unpredictable tournament, but it became the betting story of the first two March Madness weekends.

In New Jersey, gamblers chafed at the inability to wager on St. Peter’s because of gaming regulations.

In Nevada, there were occasional thoughts about wanting such a ban.

“It’s a relief now that they have been ushered from the tournament,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told NJGS.

“The public and the bettors caught a hold of this team. We had them about +2000 (20-1) in futures for a good amount of time and then +1600 (16-1). We later dropped them to about +400 and we got a lot of money on them. We got so much that if St. Peter’s had won it all, we were looking at seven-figure liability. And we are not talking about small seven-figure liability.”

Read any figure you want into that, maybe the mid-range liability of $4-7 million, as books don’t want to be too specific.

Then multiply that figure across numerous books. By any measure, it was colossal.

The Peacocks were halfway to dropping a red-ink tidal wave on the nation’s books, even while they captured the hearts of millions.

The Garden State Intro

New Jersey fans were the first to see the improbable dream.

St. Peter’s began by sneaking through the MAAC tournament in Atlantic City as a No. 2 seed.  Top-seeded Iona was knocked off by Rider College. St. Peter’s capitalized on the vacuum and squeaked past Monmouth in the finals.

Otherwise, this parade might have gone through Long Branch.

Winning the MAAC was as far as most people thought St. Peter’s would go, with good reason. The Peacocks had never, ever, won an NCAA Tournament game. And then they won three.

“What a ride St. Peter’s had through the entire tournament,” Avello recalled.

“In the first game against Kentucky, we made Kentucky an 18-point favorite. They were coming off a loss to Tennessee in the SEC tournament and the feeling among the bettors was that they were going to rout St. Peter’s.”

“We did okay in that game (St. Peter’s won in overtime, burning many Kentucky moneyline and tournament futures bets).”

Avello continued:

“Now you come to the second game against Murray State and they are +10. Bettors were thinking St. Peter’s was going to be able to take that game, which they did, and at moneyline odds around +350 or +400. We got buried in that game. But the third one was even worse. Against Purdue, St. Peter’s was about +12.5 and the bettors jumped on that, too. We had St. Peter’s at +650 on the moneyline and we had to drop it to +600 because the bettors were all over it. This time we didn’t just get buried. We absolutely got our head handed to us. It was our worst loss of the entire tournament.”

St. Peter’s NCAA Tournament Odds

The snowball effect continued against North Carolina.

St. Peter’s had 59% of the betting handle at +8. It got 39% of the moneyline handle at +290, an expensive price for the book because the 61% of North Carolina bettors were laying -380.

The over-under, a highly-bet category in isolated games like this, was 137. A big chunk, 69%, was on the over. And the wager was heavily bet.

The air that then blew out of the St. Peter’s balloon may have been the sigh of relief from the books.

The 69-49 final put them on the right side of the spread, the moneyline payouts, the totals, and the most expensive liability of all, the futures.

The St. Peter’s Effect In Nevada

Avello had an ironic personal connection to the Peacocks. As his book sought to dodge the St. Peter’s tsunami, his wife Linda reveled in the rise.

Like her husband, she’d grown up in Poughkeepsie, New York. She’d also gone to grammar school with Rich Rinaldi, one of St. Peters’ most-famous alumni.

Rinaldi played in the NBA with the Baltimore Bullets and New York Nets roughly 50 years ago. He was also recently named to the All-Time Starting Five in the history of St. Peter’s.

And in March, he was reborn. Rinaldi celebrated, reaching out to the Avello household.

“We spoke a lot during this time,” Avello recalled. “Rich was really pumped. My wife was rooting for St. Peter’s the whole time. She didn’t care about our liability,” he laughed.

As the team now marches through town, cheered by throngs who realize the journey wasn’t an April Fools’ joke, the spirit of March Madness thrives. Rarely in one season has so much parity unfolded.

At one point in the regular season, the top six teams in the AP poll went down in one weekend.

Early in this tournament, defending National Champion Baylor hit the bricks. Not long after that went Gonzaga, this year’s top-ranked regular-season team.

St. Peter’s did more than reach the Elite Eight. It became the barometer for future Cinderella teams.

Just as the 1972 Miami Dolphins are mentioned any time a pro football team sniffs an undefeated season, St. Peter’s will resurface whenever a tournament underdog starts rolling.

That’s why this parade doesn’t end the ride. It merely goes with the footprint this small school placed upon March Madness.

The march through Jersey City honors one of the tournament’s all-time wonder dogs. Friday’s participants will be proud as a Peacock, for a long time.

 

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

About the Author

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.