Garden State’s biggest college basketball fan headed to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Friday to watch Monmouth edge out Rider in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament.
A week earlier, he was at Prudential Central in Newark for Seton Hall’s win over Georgetown.
Several times this season he could be spotted at Jersey Mike’s Arena in his usual seat on the baseline across from the student section.
So you can bet Gov. Phil Murphy will be glued to the TV at 6 p.m. today for the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, which could feature a historic moment if four Division I men’s basketball programs from New Jersey are included in the field for the first time since 1991.
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“New Jersey has always been ready for the big dance,” Murphy said in an exclusive statement to USA TODAY Network New Jersey. “We have a reputation for producing players who excelled in March Madness, but often played for schools in other states. Seeing players on the biggest stage while wearing our schools’ jerseys is even sweeter.
That’s just the thing. New Jerseyans have played in the NCAA Tournament for decades, from Jersey City’s Bobby Hurley (Duke) to Plainfield’s Jay Williams (Duke) to Piscataway’s Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky). Today, when the field of 68 is revealed on CBS starting at 6 p.m., the focus is on teams within our borders.
- There’s Seton Hall, who will be in the bracket after providing a 21-10 record. The Pirates, who will receive a No. 7 or No. 8 seed, are making their fifth Big Dance appearance in the last six tournaments.
- There’s Princeton, the Ivy League regular-season champion and 23-5 record holder, who can clinch their first ticket since 2017 with victory in today’s Ivy Madness Finals at noon ( ESPNU).
- There’s MAAC Tournament champion Saint Peter’s filling the void left when Rider shocked the mighty Iona in the quarterfinals. The Peacocks last appeared in the NCAA in 2011.
- And then there’s Rutgers, which is looking to get back into the madness after last year’s heartbreaking second-round exit. The Scarlet Knights are squarely “on the bubble” and will find out their fate tonight on live TV.
One way or another, history will probably be written. In 1991, it was a heady time for the college game in these regions when Rutgers, Seton Hall, Princeton and Saint Peter’s qualified. The last time even three made the field was in 2004 with Seton Hall, Monmouth and Princeton.
Now the “Jersey Dream” is within reach, and Governor Murphy isn’t the only supporter on the edge of his seat.
‘Brilliant fun’ for leading deaf advocate
Gary Noll graduated from Rutgers and Seton Hall. He has held season tickets for both basketball teams for many years. The Middlesex County native, who is deaf, is a leading advocate for hard of hearing sports fans in the metro area, working with college athletic departments and professional teams to make sure captioning works well in the arenas.
He spent his winter shuttling between Piscataway and Newark, enjoying the wins and the memorable moments.
“What a great season for basketball in New Jersey,” he said. “Big fans, crowds, energy at the games.”
Noll not only hopes Rutgers make the cut today; he has bigger goals in mind.
“It would be great if the two could do a deep run and meet in the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight,” he said.
It is noble. Anyway, Noll said, “It’s a lot of fun. Great for recruiting, great for Jersey hoops.
There’s just one thing that bothers him: when Rutgers and Seton Hall play at the same time. He had to choose between Seton Hall-Texas and Rutgers-Purdue in December and went to the Prudential Center because it’s closer to home. He saw an Electric Pirate win against seventh-placed Texas but missed Rutgers’ epic clash against top-ranked Purdue.
He’s crossing his fingers that the networks don’t put Seton Hall and Rutgers out at the same time – if the Scarlet Knights are successful and advance past the top four.
“It’s not good for me, Jersey fans attract, even the media,” he said.
Small price to pay for the Jersey Dream.
Mixed emotions, civil war
Amber Osterbrink is a bundle of mixed emotions.
The Jersey City resident graduated from Rutgers in 2020. She held student memberships for four years, starting in 2016 when Steve Pikiell arrived and the program was in the dumps. In the fall, as a freshman at Seton Hall Law School, she bought subscriptions for the Pirates. She would like to see both names appear on her screen tonight.
“I’m thrilled for Seton Hall because it’s pretty much a given, but I really hope Rutgers gets the offer,” she said. “The three seniors (Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Caleb McConnell) deserve it so much after the way they changed the program. I couldn’t even get friends to go to games with me (in my freshman year), and by my senior year, people were changing schedules to get to them.
For Seton Hall fans, seeing the Pirates in the bracket has become part of their March Madness experience. Ditto for Princeton fans of a certain age. But for the faithful of Rutgers and Saint Peter, that feeling of seeing your school in the big bracket has been a rare thing.
The Lomurro family understands better than most. Don Lomurro, who graduated from Rutgers in 1973, has subscriptions to Scarlet Knights basketball, football and wrestling. His son Richie, who graduated from Seton Hall in 2004, is a season ticket holder for his beloved pirates.
Together they run the Freehold-based Lomurro Law. Suffice it to say, there will be parentheses and matches – and hopefully no bubble bursting – around the water cooler on Monday morning.
“The Lomurro family’s 31-year civil war in college basketball will be suspended for drafting on Sunday,” Richie said. “I’ll wear my blue for the hall, and my dad will wear his scarlet red, but we’ll wear them together in unity, rooting New Jersey-filled parentheses.”
And once the games are launched?
“We have made a pact that we watch every game in the tournament together,” Richie said. “Fortunately for me, it never created a conflict. But this year, nothing would be more magical than for the stars to line up for a possible Garden State Classic during March Madness.
It won’t happen in the early rounds – teams that played each other during the regular season are intentionally separated by the selection committee – but if it happens later, well, that would be a new kind of March Madness.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and college basketball since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 Voters. Contact him at [email protected]