The Cinderella Story of the NCAA Tournament has a bittersweet connection to New Jersey sports bettors. Maybe you’ve heard about the Jersey City-based St. Peter’s University men’s basketball team.
They can watch it, get caught up on it and celebrate it. But they can’t bet it.
New Jersey gamblers, forbidden from betting on Garden State college teams or on college events originating here, can’t monetize the captivating rise of the Peacocks.
Unless bettors travel to Philadelphia and establish Keystone State betting accounts, they can only watch St. Peter’s face Purdue Friday in a Sweet 16 matchup.
Is that +12.5-point spread (available in Pennsylvania) appealing at its core?
St. Peter’s shocks Kentucky in NCAA Tournament opening round
NJ sports bettors could not wager as St. Peter’s launched its Cinderella swirl, winning the MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City to qualify for the Big Dance.
They could not hit their apps as the No. 15 Peacocks then stunned No. 2 Kentucky 85-79 in the opening-round game. They could not participate in the see-saw lead changes that prompted a flood of in-game wagering.
St. Peter’s, an 18-point underdog, hit a driving shot to tie the game that hung on the rim and went in with 21.6 seconds to go.
And then St. Peter’s went out and dominated Kentucky in overtime.
When it was over, the Peacocks won by the same margin as a MAAC tournament clinching victory over Monmouth, in Atlantic City. Backers of Long Branch-based Monmouth know this tournament path very easily could have applied to the Hawks.
But to prove this was no fluke, the Peacocks looked more talented than Murray State in the 70-60 second round win.
The Peacocks knocked off an eight-time national champion and ended the nation’s longest win streak of 21 games, two days apart.
Now the Peacocks, only the third No. 15 seed to ever advance to the tournament’s second weekend, try to become the first to reach the Elite Eight.
St. Peter’s vs. Kentucky ‘one of top bet games’
When St. Peter’s takes the court versus Purdue Friday at 7:09 p.m., it will remain a visual, not financial, spectacle for New Jersey online gamblers.
Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told PlayNJ “The St. Peter’s first-round game against Kentucky was one of our top bet games of the day.”
Yes, the comment applies even with no action coming in from the Garden State.
“The money we did take on St. Peter’s for that game was on the spread (+18). I don’t think anybody could have actually thought they were going to beat Kentucky,” Avello said.
One game later, the betting pattern changed.
Avello sensed gamblers had caught a glimpse of the magic that was St. Peter’s and would wager into it.
“Every year there is somebody out there that does the unthinkable,” Avello said. “You start to watch them play and think ‘this team is pretty good.’ And then they score an upset. St. Peter’s actually beating Kentucky was quite an accomplishment.
“Now it is a different story against Murray State. The bettors were thinking that this 9.5-point dog was capable of winning the game outright. We start to hear the chatter. We start to see that the gamblers are getting behind this team.
“It does not feel insurmountable to the bettors that St. Peter’s could win again. They were 4-1 on the moneyline and the bettors really lined up behind that game.
“We got buried on that one.”
New Jersey bettors not sharing the action
Last weekend was not the first time Avello faced a betting restriction like St. Peter’s.
Avello experienced a similar situation in Nevada several years back, in which bettors were not allowed to wager on UNLV at legal brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.
There’s no way to estimate the amount of money New Jersey gamblers would have wagered on behalf of St. Peter’s, Avello noted. But it would have been substantial.
“This cost the New Jersey bettors a lot of money,” he said. “Lots of bettors would have played them on the moneyline, maybe not so much because of the +18 they were getting against Kentucky, but definitely against Murray State.
“…In New York, people crossed over into New Jersey to play the pro sports (before New York legalized sports wagering and then launched mobile wagering in January). If the betting option is not open to people, they are going to play offshore or make bets with the bookies.
“You are forcing them to do go back and do what they were doing before sports gambling became legal.”
New Jersey voters had an opportunity to overturn the current college betting restrictions back in November. However, once they voted “no,” any chances of St. Peter’s NCAA Tournament odds appearing at NJ online sportsbooks vanished.
The 2021 Rutgers betting scenario
The St. Peter’s Cinderella rise is not the first time Garden State gamblers would like to have been involved with their team.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights raised this situation last year, winning a first-round game and coming within an eyelash of capturing a second.
Rutgers returned to the tournament this year and dropped a thrilling overtime contest to Notre Dame in the play-in round.
“The Rutgers game was absolutely phenomenal,” Avello said. “The game seemed to have everything and the in-game wagering for us was terrific.”
The cerebral side of the St. Peter’s betting story
There’s another vantage point to this unexpected development. St. Peter’s has resurrected the storied underdog journey, which is March Madness at its core.
The Peacocks had never won an NCAA Tournament game in their history before this month. They won two in two days.
That all unfolded after the Peacocks won their last seven regular-season games and headed to the MAAC in Atlantic City as the No. 2 seed to heavily-favored Iona.
But another New Jersey team, Rider University, hit a late off-balance shot and secured a one-point win over Iona.
And it was no ordinary Iona team. It was one coached by Rick Pitino, who had won a national championship with Kentucky, in 1996. In New Jersey.
St. Peter’s capitalized on the opening, won the MAAC and has looked carefree in two Big Dance games. The Peacocks hit three-pointers against Kentucky and out-rebounded Murray State.
Coached by one-time Seton Hall star Shaheen Holloway, the team is playing with attitude. Don’t tell its players they are underdogs.
Either way, St. Peter’s fans will not forget 2022 NCAA Tournament
The St. Peter’s ascent has a unique twist for Avello.
He’s a native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. So is Rich Rinaldi, an Avello friend who played for St. Peter’s in the late 1960’s and then the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA and the New Jersey Nets of the ABA.
Rinaldi averaged 21.2 points per game between 1969-71 at St. Peter’s.
This has turned back the clock for Rinaldi and his core of New Jersey friends.
“I have enjoyed a lot of recent dialogue with Rich,” Avello said. “He is extremely excited talking about this team with all his New Jersey people. He tells me his phone is ringing off the hook.”
When it comes to this unexpected St. Peter’s rise, the Jersey fans can’t bet it.
But they won’t forget it.