Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Joshua Manocherian Sports Blog | Monmouth’s Sudden Demise

Joshua Manocherian: Monmouth and the Art of Not Dancing

Joshua Manocherian is a fan of teams with good bench mobs, and by “bench mob”, he’s referring to in-game celebrations. Last year’s Monmouth Hawks had everything – scorers, dunkers, signature wins, bench mobs – except an NCAA Tournament slot. And now, it seems they’re going to miss the Big Dance again.

This year was supposed to be Monmouth’s year. One season removed from an NCAA basketball season marked by highs and lows, Monmouth was pegged to finally break through the MAAC conference tournament and on to the NCAA Tournament with a 27-6 overall record.

Siena, who entered MAAC tournament play at 16-26 after starting the season with four wins and 11 losses, had other plans. The Saints were down by fifteen at the half, but rallied to take the lead with four minutes remaining. It was a monumental upset by Siena as Monmouth had beaten them twice in the regular season, but if the Saints make it all the way to the Big Dance, it won’t be their first time – they had a string of appearances from 2008 to 2010.

As for Monmouth, they might have to wait another year. Their last appearance was in 2006.

This is no doubt frustrating for the Hawks and their fans, who surprised the world in 2015-16 with their high-octane running game and colorful bench celebrations. They even made the highlights of ESPN SportsCenter on the strength of their celebrations alone, but on-court, were also making a strong case for an at-large bid.

The Hawks opened their season with wins at UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, Georgetown, and Rutgers, with Notre Dame ranked at #17 when they played. Normally, that type of performance would net a team an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. However, they went on to lose conference games to teams who were ranked much lower than them, lost to Iona in the MAAC championship game, and they didn’t get to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Instead, they played in the NIT, losing to George Washington by 16 at home in the second round.

This season, the non-conference slate was significantly weaker than the previous season’s. Instead of playing against teams that traditionally had high RPI rankings, they played just two teams with top-50 RPIs: North Carolina and South Carolina. The former blew the Hawks off the Dean Dome, beating them by 28. The South Carolina game, however, was decided only in the final seconds. In hindsight, with the Gamecocks standing fourth in the competitive SEC, it was a good loss. But of course, a really good win is a lot better when it comes to computing for at-large slots.

The rest of Monmouth’s schedule doesn’t look good on paper, either. They only won against two teams in the top 100 of the RPI rankings: Princeton and Iona, and Memphis, which now plays in the American Athletic Conference, isn’t the same as the Derick Rose-led Memphis team that almost won the NCAA championship game against Kansas. Princeton leads the Ivy League and has a pretty good non-conference record. Iona, while third in the MAAC, is ranked 33rd among all Division I teams for scoring and has signature wins against WAC leader Nevada, MAC runner-up Ohio, and not much else.

If you were ticked off that Monmouth did not make it to the tournament last year, you might as well skip Selection Sunday and watch something else. And maybe wait for the NIT or CIT to come around and hope that the bench is still worth watching.

Keyword: Joshua Manocherian Joshua Manocherian Sports Blog | Tim Tebow’s Unusual Road to Major League Baseball

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Joshua Manocherian: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview

Preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Arizona Wildcats

Emily Muhleman is a sports blogger based in Seattle. She writes mostly about the NFL, the Pac-12, and the West Coast Conference. When she’s not writing about sports, she likes long walks on the beach in Olympic National Park.

This Sunday’s matchup between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Arizona Wildcats is expected to be an exciting affair. Gonzaga and Arizona are ranked #10 and #16 in the AP Poll, respectively, and each have exciting players that might just be NBA draft first-round picks next year.

The Zags are coming off six straight wins to start their season. Their last two games were against #21 Iowa State and Florida (who were unranked last week but now sit at #24), and winning a third straight game against a ranked, high-major opponent will only boost their confidence heading into the rivalry game against Washington. It will also help them make their case for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

Arizona, on the other hand, had their own little run scuttled by the Butler Bulldogs. While the Wildcats are in the AP rankings right now, it isn’t exactly because of their strength of schedule. Their past four wins have come against Santa Clara, Northern Colorado, Sacred Heart, and Cal State Bakersfield. A win against a higher-ranked opponent, such as Gonzaga, could make a difference on Selection Sunday, especially with UCLA expected to run the table in the Pac-12.

While much has been said about both teams’ backcourts, the must-see matchup will be the one inside. Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski was projected to be a first-round pick this year, but opted to take another year of college eligibility after missing most of last season due to back injuries. This season, the seven-foot Pole is looking every bit the NBA player, averaging 11.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block per game. Facing him is the Finnish phenom, Lauri Markkanen, who is already being compared to the New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis this early. Markkanen is averaging a team-high 18.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, and the contrast between Karnowski’s bruising inside game and Markkanen’s finesse will be intriguing to watch.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Joshua Manocherian: Markelle Fultz: NBA Star in the Making

Why Washington’s Markelle Fultz Might Be Next Year’s Number One Pick

Emily Muhleman writes about sports in the state of Washington. While she studied at Washington State, she keeps close tabs on the state’s other collegiate teams, including the Washington Huskies, the Seattle Redhawks, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Washington Huskies might be a middle-of-the-pack team right now, losing their season opener to Yale and dropping two straight games against TCU, but it isn’t keeping the crowds away from home games. The reason? A 6-5 freshman guard named Markelle Fultz.
A five-star recruit out of DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland, Fultz chose Washington over 21 other schools that included Xavier, Texas, Maryland, North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas, and Louisville. He averaged 19 points as a senior and was named MVP at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship. What makes his story even more impressive is the fact that he started playing varsity ball only as a junior, being assigned to DeMatha’s junior varsity team as a sophomore. He joined the Huskies as part of the eighth-ranked 2016 recruiting class, which included three other ESPN 100 players.
Fultz started the season strong in Washington’s loss to the Yale Bulldogs, logging 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. Prior to the November 30 game against TCU, he averaged 23 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game. These are all impressive numbers for any NCAA player; what makes them all the more impressive is that Fultz is a true freshman. Against TCU, he had a highlight play where he crossed over a defender before dunking over another with one hand on a fast break. This shows Fultz is not just a scorer – he can also be very entertaining.
Draft Express has ranked Fultz as the possible number one pick in next year’s NBA Draft on the strength of his performance so far. I wouldn’t bet against it even if Washington doesn’t get into the NCAA Tournament. After all, if Ben Simmons failed to lead LSU to the Big Dance and was still drafted first overall, Fultz could do it too.