3 New Jersey men’s basketball teams compete in NCAA Tournament

The Garden State is ready to dance.

Seton Hall, Rutgers and Saint Peter’s are all heading to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament this week. It’s the first time since 2004 that three New Jersey programs have punched tickets to March Madness. It’s also the first time since 1991 that Seton Hall and Rutgers have both played in the NCAA Tournament.

Rutgers will kick off at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday when the Piscataway program takes on Notre Dame (22-10) in the “First Four” of the tournament. The two West Region 11 top seeds will face off in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will face No. 6 seeded Alabama in the first round on Friday in San Diego.

Rutgers is coming off an 18-13 season in which they went 12-8 (fourth place) in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights were considered a bubble team heading for selection on Sunday March 13, but six Quad 1 wins pushed them down the field. Head coach Steve Pikiell is now in his second straight NCAA tournament after Rutgers suffered a 30-year drought. Rutgers toppled Clemson in the first round last season before falling to Houston in the Round of 16. Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Caleb McConnell were all on that team. Now they start the seniors vying for a longer run in the tournament.

Saint Peter’s, meanwhile, are heading to March Madness for the first time in 11 years after earning an automatic offer with a win over fellow Jersey school Monmouth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship. The Jersey City Peacocks, coached by former Seton Hall star Shaheen Holloway, are coming off a 19-11 regular season that included a 14-6 (second-place) conference record.

15 seeds in the East Region, Saint Peter’s will face No. 2 Kentucky (26-7) at 7:10 p.m. Thursday in Indianapolis.

8 Seton Hall is New Jersey’s highest seed after a 21-10 season that saw the Pirates go 11-8 in Big East play for a fifth-place finish. The Hall will face the No. 9 TCU (20-12) in the South Region at 9:57 p.m. Friday in the final game of the first round.

Led on the sidelines by Kevin Willard, the Pirates have now reached the NCAA Tournament in five of the last six seasons. Seton Hall did not take part in the Big Dance last season, however, making it the first South Orange school tournament since Covid-19 deprived the Pirates of a potentially special run in March 2020, when the NCAA tournament has been canceled.

If the Pirates (headlined by Big East first-team Jared Rhoden) advance, they’ll likely face No. 1 Arizona (31-3).

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