UCLA. Notre Dame. USC. Georgetown.
If you’re looking for a Final Four of all-time college sports royalty, you could do a lot worse than those first four. All four are national brand names. UCLA and Georgetown are two of the signature programs in college basketball over the last 50 years. Notre Dame is by far the biggest name in college football, and USC is easily in the top 10 in that sport.
The term “power” gets thrown around way too freely in college sports in relation to conferences that, frankly, in most cases are carried by a couple athletic programs. Make no mistake, though: all four of these are true “power” programs-UCLA, Notre Dame and USC in all sports, and Georgetown in basketball as a leader in the Big East, the gold standard for NCAA Division I basketball-first leagues.
As such, it cannot be overstated just what a story it is that little Monmouth has now defeated all four schools in its first 10 games in this college basketball season, the latest coming with a 83-68 win at Georgetown Tuesday night in which the Hawks led almost the whole way and by double figures almost the entire second half. Monmouth controlled the game in almost every way imaginable, outrebounding the Hoyas 40-33, posting five scorers in double figures and hitting 31 of 37 from the foul line .
Just looking at basketball, those four teams listed above have a combined 127 NCAA Tournament appearances, 197 tourney wins, 26 Final Fours (yes, even USC has two-1940 and 1954) and 12 national championships. Monmouth has been a Division I member since 1985 and has four NCAA Tournament appearances and one win-as a 16 seed against a 16 seed.
This is as big as Gonzaga exploding on the scene in 1999 to post its first three NCAA Tournament wins ever to make the Elite Eight. As big as Division II schools Alaska-Anchorage and UC Riverside (now Division I) defeating a pair of undefeated top five teams from the Big Ten (Michigan and Iowa, respectively)-in a span of four days in 1988. As big as Florida Gulf Coast going in 10 years from a newborn program in the NAIA to a 15 seed in the 2013 NCAA tourney running and dunking over bigger name programs on its way to the Sweet 16.
This is a story for the ages, and it came from almost nowhere. Monmouth went 18-15 last year, tied for third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and were right about smack dab in the middle of the RPI, finishing 178th of 351 teams. There was little indication this was coming, but it has and it’s been a blast, a terrific Cinderella story in a season that is furnishing a number of them early (see: Texas-Arlington, Arkansas-Little Rock).
And for just a second, let’s forget about the Hawks’ entertaining bench, which is a hoot and a joy to watch being so engaged in games, even if it’s understandable that some aren’t in love with choreographed celebrations. Set that aside for a bit, because far more importantly, this team can play.
Justin Robinson is a cold-blooded shot-maker, a gnat on defense and is playing at an All-American level. Micah Seaborn is a smooth freshman who already has added a dimension to the team from outside. Deon Jones is an all-MAAC caliber swingman. Colin Stewart is a three-point sniper who hit contested threes time and again in the first half Tuesday night. Chris Brady and Zac Tillman provide serious beef inside.
Monmouth still has work to do to be an NCAA Tournament team, and it will be work-as proven already by the Hawks’ loss at Canisius in early MAAC play. Without a doubt, though, the Hawks have already built a resume of name-recognition wins that should not just put them firmly in the conversation in March, but will be hard for others to match.
Bo Ryan calls it a career:
News broke late last night after Wisconsin’s 64-49 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi that Bo Ryan had resigned effective immediately, 12 games into the Badgers’ season. Greg Gard, Ryan’s right-hand man, will take over on an interim basis.
As unusual as the circumstances are of a coach retiring early in a season, a strange oddity for Wisconsin is that it has been here before with a revered coach who took the Badgers to the Final Four. Dick Bennett did the same in 2000, stepping aside three games into the year the season immediately after making the Final Four.
It’s well-known that there was mystery regarding Ryan’s future plans at Wisconsin, whether he would go with his announced plan to retire at the end of this year or perhaps keep going another year, two years, or even five years or more.
What we do know is that college basketball is losing a true original. An innovator who created his own offense, and a coach who believed in player development and excelled at it, perhaps more than any coach in the country. Ryan regularly took unheralded recruits and turned them into Big Ten winners, and sometimes like Frank Kaminsky even national player of the year award winners. He was not inflexible-see his use of Nigel Hayes as a point-power forward this year-but he also proved that his tried-and-true- ways still worked in a time when recruiting “stars” and ball screens dominate the sport.
Some will question the move and if Ryan is “quitting” on his team. It really doesn’t matter what fans think; the only ones who can determine that are his players. If they’re comfortable with it, then there’s really nothing to sweat here. It doesn’t serve the team either to have a coach whose heart isn’t in it, and if this is an act of selflessness to get Gard a chance to audition for the job-as some will certainly speculate-then it’s hard to argue with that too. Per Wisconsin state hiring laws, a public coach-in-waiting succession plan was not going to fly, because as a state institution the school is required to post all open job positions, so this could well have been a way for Ryan to sneak around that to get his longtime assistant a foot in the door.
Ryan undoubtedly has earned the right to walk away on his terms, on his time. Just as surely, the sport will miss him greatly.
- On the court, it was a rather light schedule. Of note was Mississippi running away from a good Louisiana Tech team 99-80 behind 29 points from Stefan Moody. The Rebels are starting to heat up and have won five straight. UCLA also outlasted Louisiana-Lafayette 89-80 as Bryce Alford (27 points) outdueled Shawn Long (26 points, 16 rebounds) and Oregon handled UC Irvine 78-63 with Elgin Cook scoring a career-high 26 points.
- Also a tip of the hat to Southern, which nearly won another tough road game before finally surrendering to Memphis 72-67. The Jaguars have had a very nice non-conference run for the SWAC, and by the end of the year this may not be a bad win at all for the Tigers.
- Iowa State received bad news as senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long will sit out the rest of the year as he is still experiencing pain from arthroscopic surgery to both hips this offseason. Long played in all of ISU’s first eight games and was playing more than 31 minutes per game, averaging 12.0 points per contest. This is a significant blow to a Cyclones team that has a talented-but-short rotation.
- Nevada center A.J. West has left the team and the school and has ended his college career for “personal reasons.” West sent a letter to the Reno Gazette-Journal announcing his departure, saying he was “stepping away for personal reasons” and “I do not want to be a distraction to the team.” West averaged a double-double last year (12.1 points, 11.0 rebounds plus 2.6 blocked shots) and led the country in offensive rebounds. He was still at 9.6 points and 7.7 rebounds this year, though he had come off the bench in four of the last five games. The Wolf Pack is off to a 7-3 start with only close losses to Hawaii, Cal State-Fullerton and Oregon State.
- Perhaps the best game of the night is one of the latest, as Arizona State is at UNLV (10 p.m. EST, CBSSN). The Sun Devils hung with Kentucky for more than a half on Saturday.
- Also out west, New Mexico State goes to New Mexico for the second game of these rivals’ annual home-and-home. The Lobos won the first game at Las Cruces.
- The plate of guarantee games for the night includes Tulane at North Carolina (7 p.m., ESPN2), Kennesaw State’s Owls going to Louisville, Nicholls State plays at SMU and Baylor hosts Division III Hardin-Simmons, a former NCAA Division I member.
- John Brown is still doing his thing scoring, rebounding and dunking at High Point, and he’ll try to lead the Panthers to an upset at North Carolina State.
- Northern Arizona seems to give ranked teams problems every so often, so Arizona needs to be on attention when it hosts the Lumberjacks.
- Undefeated Arkansas-Little Rock seeks to improve to 9-0 when it travels to face in-state foe Central Arkansas.
Have a wonderful Wednesday.