Shaheen Holloway, who stepped into the national spotlight as the coach of the plucky St. Peter’s Peacocks during their deep run through this year’s N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament, left the university on Wednesday to become the head coach at Seton Hall.
The move had been expected ever since Kevin Willard departed Seton Hall for Maryland two weeks ago, with Willard openly expressing hope that Holloway — his former assistant — would return to the university where he starred two decades ago.
Holloway, 45, has been in the national spotlight over the last three weeks, beginning when the Peacocks, playing with a confidence and a fearlessness atypical for a second-place team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, took down Kentucky in the tournament’s opening round.
It was not long before a team of under-recruited and overlooked players from a tiny commuter school in Jersey City, N.J., became a tournament darling by following that upset with others, first of Murray State and then of Purdue, before being trounced, 69-49, in the East Regional final on Sunday by North Carolina. The Peacocks became the first No. 15 seed to advance that far.
Holloway captured the essence of his underdog squad when he was asked after the Murray State victory how it had held up in a rough-and-tumble game. “I’ve got guys from New Jersey and New York City,” Holloway said in his Queens accent. “You think we’re scared of anything?”
If the rest of the nation was introduced to Holloway this month, he was hardly a secret among the Northeast college basketball coaching fraternity. After Iona beat St. Peter’s earlier this season to seize control of the conference race, its coach, the Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, complimented Holloway, calling him a future star.
The Pirates are counting on it.
Seton Hall was a middling program when Willard arrived in 2010, before he gradually made the Pirates fixtures in the N.C.A.A. tournament. His best team may have been in 2019-20, when Seton Hall shared the Big East regular-season title with Villanova and Creighton and climbed to 15th in the final Associated Press Top 25 rankings. But the pandemic cut the season short, and Willard leaves having won only one tournament game in his 12 seasons.
The Final Four in the Men’s and Women’s Tournaments
The national semifinals. March Madness is narrowing down to the top teams, and will culminate with the Final Four teams facing off in the women’s and men’s tournaments on April 1 and April 2, respectively. Here’s a closer look at the semifinals:
Men’s: Duke vs. North Carolina. The Duke Blue Devils, which beat Arkansas to clinch a spot in the Final Four in New Orleans, will play against their fiercest rival, North Carolina, after the Tar Heels made short work of underdog St. Peter’s.
Men’s: Villanova vs. Kansas. After trailing at halftime, the Kansas Jayhawks dominated the second half of their game against Miami to set up a matchup against the Villanova Wildcats, which outlasted lower seeded Houston.
Women’s: South Carolina vs. Louisville. The top-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks proved too tough for Creighton and advanced to its fourth national semifinal under Coach Dawn Staley. They will face the Louisville Cardinals, which beat Michigan in their fourth straight regional final.
Women’s: Stanford vs. Connecticut. After injuries, losses to unranked teams and a second-round scare, the UConn Huskies advanced to their 14th straight Final Four, where they will face Stanford, the reigning champion. The Cardinal bested Texas to reach the national semifinals.
In his final game, amid speculation that he was departing, eighth-seeded Seton Hall was routed by ninth-seeded Texas Christian in the opening round of the N.C.A.A. tournament, 69-42. Willard also frustrated the fan base with his disinterest in playing the Pirates’ in-state rival Rutgers, a series that resumed during the 2021-22 season, without his blessing.
Seton Hall fans, though, will be getting one of their own in Holloway.
A former high school all-American who spurned Duke to stay home — he grew up in Queens before moving across the Hudson to attend the St. Patrick in Elizabeth, N.J. — Holloway had a successful career. He was inducted into Seton Hall’s Hall of Fame and remains the career assist leader. His last season was his best, when he delivered a game-winning layup at the buzzer to beat Oregon in the opening round of the 2000 N.C.A.A. tournament.
But his tenure with the Pirates also featured a cruel ending — he severely injured his ankle in the following game.
When the Pirates lost the next week to Oklahoma State, 68-66, in a regional semifinal, Holloway was on the bench in street clothes. Seton Hall hasn’t been back since.