The 2016 college basketball season ended in heartbreak for the Monmouth University men’s basketball team, as they were passed over for the NCAA Tournament after a tremendous season. The team opened their season with a road victory over the UCLA Bruins and would go on to gain National attention on Thanksgiving night with a victory over the number 17 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
That was the night that the Monmouth Bench Mob was born. The guys at the end of the bench came up with some pretty hilarious celebrations for when the Hawks had big moments on the court. These celebrations earned them some regular time on shows such as SportsCenter as well as non-sports related morning shows. While the Bench Mob is what got the team the most attention and earned them fans across the country, it was the play on the court that left everyone questions the committee when the team was left out of the Big Dance.
Following their win against Notre Dame, the Hawks would go on to beat the likes of USC and Georgetown while also just missing out on a win over Dayton. They won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC for short), entering the conference tournament as the one seed.
They would take care of Rider and Fairfield relatively easily. But it would be Monday, March 7th that would end in disappointment for Monmouth. Monmouth was taking on the Iona Gaels in the MAAC Championship with the winner getting the automatic bid to the tourney.I recall walking into my night class and my professor had the screen down and the game up. We would check in on the score
I recall walking into my night class and my professor had the screen down and the game up. We would check in on the score occasionally throughout the class. When the class ended, there was still some time left in the game, and several of us stayed to watch the finish, even though it did not look good. And sure enough, Iona would take the game 79-76.
When Selection Sunday rolled around, Monmouth would not hear its named called. But it was at this moment that every man on the team must have had a fire lit inside of them to push even harder next season.
Well, that next season is now drawing closer and closer to March and this team is just as dangerous as it was a season ago. The only major loss the team suffered between seasons was the graduation of Deon Jones, who was one of the team’s top three players.
But Justin Robinson is still here. So is Micah Seaborn. Same with Chris Brady, Colin Stewart, Je’lon Hornbeak, Josh James and a more. The point is, the same team that was seen as a tournament quality team by everyone except the committee a season ago is still playing in West Long Branch. And they are ready to take that next step.
Now while they may not have the same big-time victories over the likes of Notre Dame and UCLA like they did last year, it does not mean they have not been having a tremendous season. They are currently 21-5, with a 13-2 record in the conference, which is good for first place in the MAAC. They are currently riding an 11 game win streak, with their last two coming on the road. They close out a three-game road trip at Siena tonight at Siena.
Now, if they have been just as good, why haven’t they gotten the publicity like they did a season ago you may ask? Well, the answer is quite simple. The Bench Mob is no more. The team has taken a more serious tone this season, with a bigger emphasis on the court. This is just another reason to believe the team is ready to step up for an NCAA Tournament appearance.
They are flying under the radar right now and that is certainly a good thing for the Hawks. While all the hype was nice a season ago, now they can earn their way to the dance without any distractions. All of their focus is on playing their best basketball, without having to worry about morning show appearances or teams screaming for a new bench celebration.
In addition, you remember how I said these guys had an extra fire inside of them the night they lost in the MAAC title last year. Well, that fire grows even more when you consider many of these guys are playing in their senior seasons. That means it is this year or bust for guys like Justin Robinson, Chris Brady, Collin Stewart and Josh James.
So when this season’s MAAC Tournament rolls around, you can bet these guys will not take things lightly. They want they automatic bid like you would not believe. If they keep their momentum going, they will once again enter that tourney as the one seed. With AJ English no longer at Iona, the path may be slightly easier this season as well, but is still no cakewalk.
But I have faith in this team. They have shown great tenacity this season, with 10 wins in games in which they trailed by seven or more at some point during the game. They play solid defense and are great from the free throw line. While you may not have heard about them much over the course of the last few months, remember the name Monmouth when the bracket comes out. If they can earn that automatic bid, they could pose a tough matchup for a four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Monmouth Hawks are ready for the spotlight of March!