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.

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