NJ Shocked the World Last March, What is in Store for the Garden State This Year?

Last year’s March Madness was a historic one for the Garden State, with both Princeton and Fairleigh Dickinson pulling off improbable upsets. Perhaps the biggest upset in March Madness history occurred last year when Hackensack’s own Fairleigh Dickinson Knights took down the No. 1 seed Purdue, becoming just the second 16 seed to do so.

While this year will likely not feature last year’s Cinderella team, there is still a large connection between New Jersey and the largest collegiate tournament in the country. There are still several teams from NJ who are fighting for a bid to the tournament, as well as some star athletes who were recruited from the Garden State to some of the top schools in the nation.

Princeton Looks for Back-to-Back Appearances, Seton Hall Set to Make March Madness Return

After defeating DePaul last Saturday, the Seton Hall Pirates were able to put themselves in a good spot to star in this year’s March Madness, with a crucial victory over Villanova last week helping pave the way. While the seeding hasn’t yet been determined, the Pirates are a threat to any team they cross paths with, having taken down the No. 2 team in the country, UConn, as well as the No. 8 team, Marquette. Their ability to pull off these major upsets could lead them to be this year’s Cinderella story.

The Pirates head coach, Shaheen Holloway, is no stranger to Cinderella stories, having coached the 2022 Saint Peter’s team that became the first 15 seed to make it to the Elite 8. In his first year as a coach, Seton Hall finished with a 17-16 record, unable to qualify for the tournament. In year 2, the Pirates currently hold a 20-11 and are March Madness-bound.

New Jersey’s other team looking to punch their ticket to the tournament is the Princeton Tigers. Unlike Seton Hall, Princeton has not yet clinched a spot in the tournament but has an easy path to get there. The Tigers are the 2023 Ivy League regular season champions, meaning they will hold the No. 1 seed and will need to win just 2 games to clinch their spot. 

Overshadowed by FDU’s miraculous upset last year was Princeton’s equally impressive run in which the Tigers managed to make it to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed, becoming the 4th team to do so. Now, just a year later and with players like Xaivian Lee emerging as national stars, the Tigers will look to go even further this year. Though, there are still 2 games that stand between them and March Madness.

The Garden State Thrives in March as Underdogs

In the past two NCAA tournaments, New Jersey has been at the center of attention, but not because of national titles, but instead Cinderella stories. Everyone loves a good underdog story and it seems that no state produces them quite like us. Last year, the No. 16-seeded FDU and No. 15-seeded Princeton pulled off shocking upsets, with Princeton even making it to the Sweet 16. However, both teams were outshined by the previous year’s Saint Peter’s team, who made it all the way to the Elite 8. They became the highest-seeded school in tournament history to make it that far. 

Now, with both Seton Hall and Princeton hopefully in the tournament and not heavily favored to go far, it is possible that we could see a New Jersey school steal the show for the third consecutive year.

Jersey-Bred Players to Watch in the Tournament

D.J. Wagner (Kentucky)- As one of the biggest basketball recruits in recent memory to come out of NJ, D.J. Wagner has lived up to the hype, averaging 10 points as a freshman at the University of Kentucky. Wagner grew up in Camden with his father, who also attended Camden High School and spent 4 years playing in the NBA. Kentucky, one of the perennial powerhouses in the tournament, will be seeded highly in this year’s March Madness and will rely heavily on Wagner to help them win it all.

C.J. Wilcher (Nebraska)- Wilcher, who is currently a Junior at the University of Nebraska, averaging 8 points a game, was born in Plainfield, New Jersey. Attending Roselle Catholic High School, Wilcher was a four-star recruit, ranked No. 81 in the Class of 2020 by ESPN. Currently sitting at 3rd in the Big Ten, Nebraska is currently in a solid position to make the tournament.

Al-Amir Dawes (Seton Hall)- Dawes spent 3 seasons at Clemson before deciding to transfer closer to home at Seton Hall. A Newark native, Dawes attended St. Patrick High School, where he was the 7th-ranked player in the Garden State for the Class of 2019. Dawes averages 14 points for the Pirates, which is good enough to get him at 3rd in the team’s rankings.

Jahvon Quinerly (Memphis)- From Hackensack, NJ, Jahvon Quinerly attended Hudson Catholic High School, where he would become the No. 28 ranked player in the Class of 2018. Memphis is Quinerly’s 3rd school, having previously played at both Villanova and Alabama. Quinerly currently averages 14 points and 5 assists and with Memphis fighting for a spot in the tournament, they will be counting on him to get them there. 

Darnell Brodie (Drake)- The Drake Bulldogs already punched their ticket to the tournament, winning the Missouri Valley Tournament, in large part due to Brodie’s 17-point, 8-rebound performance in the finals. Brodie, a Newark native, attended East Side High School and Putnam Science Academy before spending a year at Montverde Academy, one of the most prestigious basketball schools in the country.

Zach Martini (Princeton)- Martini, who is currently in his third year at Princeton, has averaged 8 points and 3 rebounds this season for the Tigers. Hailing from Warren, NJ, Martini attended Gill St. Bernard’s School.