Last year, Monmouth was the NCAA Tournament snub that was talked about the most, and rightly so. This season, they are one more in what will surely be a series of regular season champions who suffered a gut-wrenching loss in their conference tournament.
The top seed in the MAAC, the Hawks had a 39-25 lead at halftime over Siena before the Saints scored 64 second-half points, 27 from Nico Clareth (on 8-11 shooting, including 7-9 from deep), to pull off an 89-85 stunner in Albany. This time around, there will be no sweating out Selection Sunday for the Hawks.
In fact, it was not a good day to be a higher seed in Albany, as No. 2 seed St. Peter’s also went down, losing 73-65 to Iona.
Last year, Monmouth had a resume that should have landed them in the NCAA Tournament. We won’t rehash it in detail here. The shame of things is that the antics of their bench got more print than what their team did on the floor, and the product on the floor was very good. This year, the Hawks entered the conference tournament on a roll, but they didn’t have anything close to the wins they had a year ago. If they did, they would be a no-brainer this time around given the mediocrity that is on the bubble.
This time around, Monmouth only played four games against top 100 teams, going 2-4. They lost at North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as at Syracuse, and they beat Princeton just before the holidays. They also have three losses to teams whose RPI has three digits, including Sunday’s setback. They have 27 wins, one less than the 28 they had a year ago, but they lack the quality wins among them to put them in the NCAA Tournament conversation. The NIT will come calling once again, as they won the regular season title.
Before joining the MAAC in 2013, Monmouth had a long run of success in the Northeast Conference. They made four NCAA Tournament appearances between 1996 and 2006 under the direction of Wayne Szoke and Dave Calloway, the latter of who played for Szoke early in his tenure, and former North Carolina point guard King Rice has very capably steered the program to success through the move, as he is finishing his sixth season of building the program up to three straight winning seasons. It’s widely believed that before long, he will get a job at a bigger school. Only three schools in the MAAC have smaller endowments than Monmouth, though it is the second-biggest school in the conference, and their home arena, the OceanFirst Bank Center, is less than ten years old.
There is reason to believe the Hawks will have another chance at this before long. But that doesn’t take away the hurt they are feeling right now, and championship windows, if you believe in them, always close faster than you think.
And as we have already talked about, March brings about happy stories, but also sad ones, and Monmouth right now goes down as one of the sad ones. There is currently heartbreak in West Long Branch.
The first of three automatic NCAA Tournament bids that went out on Sunday went to Winthrop, who rolled over Campbell 76-57 in the Big South championship. Chris Clemons had another big game for Campbell with 29 points, but regular season champion Winthrop had too much starting with Xavier Cooks (17 points, 14 rebounds).
The second bid went to Wichita State, who pulled away from Illinois State 71-51 to take home the Missouri Valley championship in St. Louis. The meeting was a rubber match between two teams whose only conference losses in the regular season came on the opponent’s home floor, and now the Redbirds are the first team to have to wait it out and hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, which is widely viewed as a long shot.
The last bid for the day went to Florida Gulf Coast, who continues to establish themselves as the signature program in the Atlantic Sun after using a big second half to knock off North Florida 77-61. North Florida, which has some good young talent, led by six at the half, but the Eagles outscored them 44-22 in the second half to win in convincing fashion.
A number of tournaments besides the MAAC had semifinal action. The top two seeds, UNCW and College of Charleston, won in the CAA semifinals, while Lehigh went to Boston and beat Boston University 91-88 in double overtime in the Patriot League semifinals, and they will take on Bucknell, who beat Navy 70-65 in the other semifinal, and East Tennessee and UNC Greensboro won single-digit games in the Southern Conference semifinals.
The Horizon League continued to have surprises a day after top seed Oakland went down in a stunner, as UIC knocked off Green Bay 79-70 in second round action, while it was not a big surprise that Northern Kentucky beat Wright State 82-77.
In a move that is not surprising in the least, Missouri has asked Kim Anderson to step down as their head coach at the end of the season, which is just days away. The 61-year-old alum was certainly an out-of-the-box hire at the time, but he’s never been able to get the Tigers going in his three seasons. This year, they are 7-23, and they are 26-67 in his three seasons at the helm. Anderson has two years left on the contract he signed when he was hired, and they have also had to deal with the fallout from NCAA violations that occurred in the program when Anderson’s predecessor, Tulsa head coach Frank Haith, led the program.
Another coaching move is North Texas letting Tony Benford go after five seasons at the helm. Benford signed a five-year contract when he succeeded Johnny Jones, and he finished that deal going 62-95, including an 8-22 record this season.
Championship Week kicks into high gear now, with three automatic bids going out tonight and big semifinal action also on tap.
- In the CAA championship, the top two teams in the regular season meet for the title as UNCW takes on College of Charleston in North Charleston (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
- The Southern Conference championship will pit UNC Greensboro against regular season champion East Tennessee State (7 p.m., ESPN).
- Siena and Iona will battle it out for the MAAC championship in Albany (9 p.m., ESPN2).
- Semifinal action is on tap in the America East with No. 4 New Hampshire at No. 1 Vermont (7 p.m.) and No. 3 Albany at No. 2 Stony Brook (7:30 p.m.)
- More semifinal action is slated for the Horizon League, Summit League and West Coast Conference, while the MAC and MEAC have first round action.