Will there be feverish March Madness or a tease followed by another dose of March Sadness for major New Jersey men’s college basketball teams?
That’s the question surrounding Seton Hall, Rutgers and Princeton universities, which have reasonably good chances to land in the Big Dance in a couple of weeks.
But then what?
Garden State sports gamblers are not allowed to wager on NJ-based college hoops teams. And, in most seasons, would not be contemplating anything beyond the second round anyway.
New Jersey fans have become used to the finish line coming early for their teams, viewing any advance through the tournament as a major victory.
Here’s an overview of the Garden State trio, accompanied by some of their storied links both to the tournament and to the new world of legalized sports wagering.
Seton Hall getting fitted for March Madness dancing shoes
Seton Hall is consistently strong, one of the better teams in the country. The Pirates were 18-9 (through Tuesday), nearing a ticket to the Big Dance. ESPN bracketology models put them in the No 8 spot in the East region, a promising position to at least make the tourney
They just need to pick up some wins and advance at least partially through the Big East Tournament, starting next week. If they could stay on that 8-9 seeded plane, the Pirates can avoid facing a No. 1 seeded power in the opening round.
That’s why this last stretch is important.
The Pirates still have Georgetown tonight at home and play at Creighton Saturday.
They have not suffered a losing record since 2012-13.
Seton Hall reached the national finals game in 1989, losing in overtime to Michigan, 80-79.
Along the way during that postseason, the Pirates toppled elite teams like UNLV, Indiana and Duke. Quite an impressive run.
The near-national championship and a consistent run of success came under the tutelage of coach P.J. Carlesimo, who was hired in 1982. The Pirates also began playing in the Meadowlands Arena.
During Carlesimo’s tenure, the Pirates made the Big Dance six times, including four consecutively from 1991 until 1994. After going 6–23 his first season, he turned the team into a consistent postseason contender.
Compiling an overall record of 212–166, he was named Seton Hall’s “Coach of the Century.”
He left to coach in the NBA from 1994-2013. Carlesimo guided five teams, including the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets) in 2012-13. They were 35-19 but lost in the first playoff round.
All told, the Pirates have advanced to the Sweet 16 four times, the Elite Eight three times, made two Final Four appearances and one national title game berth.
But not much lately.
The last time they appeared in the Sweet 16 was 2000. They have made a custom of bowing in the opening round.
Rutgers seeks momentum
The Scarlet Knights brought the inability of New Jersey bettors to gamble on their teams into a major focus last season.
Rutgers knocked off highly-regarded Clemson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Knights almost made it a double, losing at the end to Houston 63-60.
Rutgers is having another competitive season at 16-12 and sits on the bubble, projected for one of the First Four play-in games according to ESPN bracketology.
The Knights had a definitive run-in mid-February, knocking off four Top-20 teams in succession. Rutgers toppled Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois, but subsequently lost three in a row to conclude February.
The Knights end the season at Indiana and against Penn State. They will need a little momentum and at least a couple of more victories, to get back to the Big Dance. It would help for them to make some noise at the Big 10 championships next week.
So March Madness betting season is just getting started.
And speaking of Indiana…
The Knights remain part of an NCAA milestone. They reached the Final Four the last time a college basketball team champion went undefeated, in 1976.
This was the last men’s Division I tournament to feature two unbeaten teams, as both Indiana and Rutgers entered the tournament without a loss. Rutgers went 31–0 during the regular season, Indiana 30-0.
The Knights ended the 1976 season ranked fourth in the nation, after an 86-70 loss against the Michigan Wolverines in the semifinal round and a 106-92 loss to the UCLA Bruins in the tournament’s third-place consolation game.
Indiana went on to defeat Michigan 86-68 in the championship game.
Little did anyone expect it, but that remains the last time any team went undefeated to win the national championship. Gonzaga was on the verge of doing it last year but lost to Baylor in the championship game.
Princeton seeks Ivy League March Madness entry
So don’t look now but the Tigers ended February at 21-5.
They had a six-game winning streak.
No bracketology scenario engulfed them, but this is nonetheless an excellent team. All Princeton needs to do is win next week’s Ivy League tournament and they make the field.
However, Princeton’s biggest milestones concerned teams and players from the 1960s.
Bill Bradley, the former U.S. senator, had a significant presence for Princeton, guiding its 1965 team into a Final Four appearance, a loss against Michigan.
Three decades later _ after having played for two New York Knicks championship teams, reaching the NBA Hall of Fame and becoming a U.S. Senator, he committed what modern-day bettors might consider a personal foul.
He authored a bill that delayed the implementation of legalized sports betting by 26 years.
Bradley was the 1992 father of PASPA (Professional Sports and Amateur Protection Act), which effectively outlawed batting with the exception of Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Nevada. He actively spoke out against legalized sports wagering as well.
That’s right, Bradley was “Papa Paspa”.
It took a New Jersey coalition and a Supreme Court decision to overturn the ban in 2018, launching the multi-billion-dollar legalized sports wagering business in the United States.
Bettors throughout the United States are grateful that Bradley suffered, in basketball terms, a turnover. In the new, multi-billion-dollar sports-betting market, New Jersey teams are a polite sideshow to Garden State gamblers.
Not being able to bet on Seton Hall, Rutgers or Princeton hasn’t slowed handle, and it won’t, unless one of these teams makes a deep post-season run.
AP Photo/Nick Wass