For most MAAC teams in the last decade, the Orlando event is where teams’ hope usually get dealt a dash of reality, but not for Monmouth.
MAAC teams entered the event this season having won six games in the nine versions of the event. It is easy to think that the challenge, with an additional guarantee game added in the last few seasons, could scare off some teams. The conference did not announce their team until a week after the full field announcement.
Rider, who ended up finishing second in the conference last season, got blown out at Kansas and then lost three straight to Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Santa Clara. One of the best Siena teams in recent history, that earned a nine-seed and beat Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, did not win a game in the HP Field House. The last time a MAAC team won a game in the Orlando-based event was Marist who beat a bad Vanderbilt team 50-33 in 2012.
|MAAC History in Orlando|
|*advanced to winner’s bracket|
Monmouth entered Thursday intent on changing that and did so by becoming the comeback team. They rallied from a nine-point deficit against #17 Notre Dame to hit 52% of their two-pointers and pull out a 70-68 win. On Friday, they fell down by as many as 16 against Dayton – whose crowd made it a de facto road game – but the Hawks came back thanks to seven second half three-pointers, only to fall 73-70 to the Flyers.
After Sunday’s victory over USC, avenging their early season loss the Trojans in the season’s first weekend, the Hawks had completed their third place finish in the event. They became the second team in MAAC history to finish third, the highest the conference has had a team finish in the Old Spice/Orlando Classic. Marist beat Minnesota in the inagural event and beat Western Michigan in the third-place game, but neither opponent finished over .500 and the Golden Gophers fired Dan Monson a week later. The Hawks wins are, by far, the conference’s best in the history of the event.
The Hawks not only captured national attention with their play, but their bench gained plenty of notoriety as well.
Marist, after finishing third in the Old Spice Classic, went on to win the conference regular season title. Could the Hawks find themselves on the same path? The Hawks wins, and add to that an opening night overtime win at UCLA, prove they are for real and their finish is the MAAC’s best in the history of the event. KenPom, after their win Sunday, projects the Hawks for a 14-6 conference record – even with Iona, who is still figuring out their rotation. Here are some other numbers from the event to keep in mind as the Hawks move forward.
77 – Justin Robinson broke the tournament’s scoring record, set by Kansas State’s Michael Beasley in 2007, by totaling 77 points over three games. Robinson has showed over, not only the last three games, but all year that he will be a lock to be a first team All-MAAC players should he keep this up. The point guard showed off his quickness this weekend as well as managed to crash the boards in their Sunday win, tying his career-high with seven rebounds. His playmaking ability is one reason why the Hawks have taken a step forward.
1.18 – That is the Hawks assist to turnover ratio and even though Monmouth committed a season-high 14 turnovers on Sunday, they have proven that they can share the basketball. It was that reason why they have been able to have balance outside of Robinson and sophomore Micah Seaborn (15.6 ppg in AdvoCare Invitiational). Deon Jones, who scored four points in the first two games in Orlando, went for 14 points including an emphatic dunk late. Monmouth relied on getting bench production from Collin Stewart and Chris Brady in their first two games.
2.5% – Those are the current odds, according to KenPom, of the Hawks winning all of their final five non-conference games. They were 8.9% underdogs in their season opener at UCLA and pulled out an overtime victory. That number might not seem high, but Monmouth is currently favored in all but two games – their road game at Georgetown (15%) and their final non-conference game at Army (45%). If they can finish with one loss over the course of these final five non-conference games, they could possibly build a case for an at-large bid, should they dominate the conference.
9 – That was the Hawks’ lead at halftime over USC and while they did go on to win 83-73, Sunday’s lead after the first 20 minutes was their first halftime lead. They will start to play some easier opponents soon and should be able to get more, and hopefully larger, halftime leads.
January 4 – That is the date of Monmouth’s second home game this season – a conference match against Canisius, who they will see this weekend as they travel on the annual Buffalo trip. There is plenty of room left on the bandwagon for Monmouth, but they will play just one home non-conference game on Dec. 13 against Wagner. So these Hawks will need to keep proving that they can win on the road to build their resume.
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.