Following Rice’s MAAC tournament semifinal loss last season, coach King Rice was adamant: the Hawks are going to be considered amongst the best programs in the conference.
He put everyone on notice after the game, and said that the Hawks were coming. He realized, though, that their setback to Iona was a reminder from the upper echelon of the league, putting them in their place.
“We want to be a part of that conversation,” King said, affirming his desire to be among the conference’s best. “I thought we were closer before that game started, but they showed me that they’re not ready for us to be in that conversation yet.”
Junior Justin Robinson, however, spent 2015 making a name for himself, leading the team with 13.4 ppg and being named to the First Team All-MAAC as a sophomore in the Hawks’ fourth place finish.
“I’ve been telling people after his freshman year that he was better than people had seen,” Rice said who saw the 5’8″ point guard’s first season derailed by injury. “I still think Justin Robinson is a better player than we saw last year. I thought he had an incredible year, but he can still do more things.”
Robinson will need some help if the team — the only MAAC squad to rep the Jersey Shore — will actually become a contender this season. The team returns its two top scorers and adds a duo of key pieces who sat out last season: Oklahoma transfer Je’Lon Hornbeak, who was ranked the 24th best shooting guard according to Rivals in his senior year of high school, is eligible in the fall, as is redshirt freshman Micah Seaborn, a former three-star recruit who tangled with ineligibility.
“I think now he’ll have some guys with him, that if you take it out of [Robinson’s] hands, that might not be the best plan anymore,” Rice said.
Hornbeak made his Monmouth debut on an overseas trip to China this spring, and projects as a potential leader, one who, despite his size, might fill the void of Brice Kofane, the Providence transfer who spent 2014 patrolling the paint and swapping copious amounts of field goal attempts (he ranked second in the MAAC in blocked shots). The team’s defense was as stingy as any in conference play, allowing 64.9 ppg, and while Kofane was Monmouth’s best rebounder, Rice hopes Hornbeak will mesh with juniors Chris Brady and Zac Tillman to form a stout defensive stopgap. and profiles as another leader that could help keep the Hawks’ defense as strong as it was last season, allowing 63.9 ppg
“I think our depth this year is going to make us dangerous,” Rice said. Last season the Hawks ranked ninth in offensive rebounding and fourth in defensive rebounding, and Rice still worries about the Hawks’ frontcourt depth. “My concerns are probably a lot of the things: rebounding we’re probably middle of the pack and I want to be up higher than that. I’m not sure if we’re built that way right now.”
But what buoys Rice is that Monmouth is accustomed to bucking predictions. After being picked dead last in 2014 (their first season in the MAAC) in the preseason poll, they finished ninth.
They were picked sixth last season and finished not only as the conference’s fourth seed but the team’s first above .500 season since the Hawks made the NCAA tournament in 2006. Rice also wants to raise the expectations and hopes that with a junior-heavy team, they can beat them again.
“Now, because we made it to the semifinal game, people are going to expect another jump,” Rice said. “I think because our kids are juniors we’ll be ready. People expect us to be good, we’re ready to handle that.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.
One thought on “Monmouth Banking On Depth To Help Propel Them To MAAC Contention”
King Rice seems to have Monmouth on the right path. His recent signing of the high profile Ray Salnave from Cardozo HS in Queens was certainly a coup for his rising program. If he keeps it up, that great on-campus facility they play in should be rocking and could become a real tough place to play for opponents,