Saint Peter’s vs. North Carolina: Matchup, March Madness prediction

Saint Peter’s is chasing history, looking to become the lowest seed to reach the Final Four in NCAA Tournament history. First, the Peacocks have to get by No. 8-seed North Carolina on Sunday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Post’s Zach Braziller breaks down the East Region final:

Point Guard

RJ Davis, the White Plains native and all-time leading scorer in Westchester County history, is having a terrific tournament for North Carolina. He scored big when needed (30 points in the second-round upset of top-seeded Baylor) and has run the Tar Heels adeptly, notching 21 assists and just six turnovers. Saint Peter’s pressure defense, led by one-time walk-on Matthew Lee, will test him. Lee, the son of New York City high school legend and NCAA champion Butch Lee, doesn’t put up gaudy numbers. He’s averaging 9.3 points and 4.3 assists in three tournament games, but the Puerto Rico native limits his mistakes and is a strong defender, important qualities for a point guard.

edge: North Carolina

guard

Caleb Love and Daryl Banks III were the stars for their respective teams in the Sweet 16, Love going off for 27 of his 30 points in the second half of North Carolina’s come-from-behind win over UCLA and Banks hitting the big shots down the stretch to lead Saint Peter’s fit Purdue. Love is the more talented player — he was a five-star, top-15 prospect — while Banks’ lone scholarship offers coming out of high school were from Saint Peter’s and Wagner. None of that matters now.

edge: North Carolina

NCAA
Daryl Banks III
USA TODAY Sports

forward

Leaky Black for North Carolina and Hassan Drame of Saint Peter’s are mirror images of one another, versatile forwards who are capable of offensive contributions. But their value is in their ability to contribute in so many ways at both ends of the floor.

edge: For a bit

forward

This is by far the most fascinating matchup: Saint Peter’s jumping-jack of a forward, KC Ndefo, against North Carolina sharpshooter Brady Manek. The 6-foot-7 Ndefo, a shot-blocking menace averaging 2.7 rejections a game, can impact a game in so many ways — with his defense, his passing and his ability to score around the basket. Manek, a 6-9 graduate transfer from Oklahoma, has been essential to North Carolina’s turnaround, averaging 17.2 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 41.4 percent from deep in the Tar Heels’ late-season run of 15 wins in their last 18 games.

edge: For a bit

forward

First Saint Peter’s freshman Clarence Rupert had to deal with National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky. On Friday, it was Purdue’s elite tandem of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. Now it’s All-ACC first-team selection Armando Bacot. It just doesn’t get any easier for Rupert, who was terrific on Friday, notching 11 points, three steals and two blocks.

edge: North Carolina

UNC
Hubert Davis
AP

bench

This is the peacocks’ one clear advantage. Shaheen Holloway goes 10-deep and plays all 10 for double-digit minutes, which allows Saint Peter’s to pressure the ball nonstop. It’s No. 3 scorer, mustachioed March breakout star Doug Edert, is one of its top offensive weapons. Versatile forward Fousseyni Drame is the team leader in rebounds and filled in well for the foul-plagued Ndefo in Friday’s win over Purdue. The unit produced 34 points in the opening-round upset of Kentucky. North Carolina’s bench has scored that much in the entire tournament, and much of that came in mop-up duty in the first round.

edge: Saint Peter’s

Coach

Few coaches have seen their star rise quite as sharply as Holloway, a Queens native and former Seton Hall star who has become the face of this Cinderella story. He out-coached John Calipari and Matt Painter, creating a belief in this unrecruited group of grinders. Meanwhile, Hubert Davis has gone from the outhouse to the penthouse in his first season with North Carolina. The former Knicks guard was under fire most of the year as the team underachieved and now is being hailed for the job he has done in leading the Tar Heels to within one win of the Final Four. But he’s the other guy in this matchup.

edge: Saint Peter’s

Prediction

You keep waiting for the clock to strike midnight on Cinderella Saint Peter’s, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Peacocks have won despite shooting poorly in their last two wins, going only 9-for-34 on 3-point attempts. They knocked off Purdue though Ndefo, their senior star, was limited to 18 minutes. We haven’t seen their “A” game since the win over Kentucky. Clearly, Holloway’s gutty group of underdogs won’t be fazed by the moment or scared by North Carolina. The Saint Peter’s depth and nonstop pressure will wear down the Tar Heels. Ndefo will stay on the floor and will be the best player on the floor, garnering Most Outstanding Player honors of the East Region. The slipper still fits.

Saint Peter’s 73, North Carolina 68

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