On March 9, NCAA selection committee chair Joe Castiglione said that Monmouth would be one of the teams that would be discussed throughout the selection process.
However, when the final NCAA tournament bracket came out, the Hawks were not in the field of 68.
Teams like Tulsa, a team that was not projected to make the NCAA tournament on any forecasting website, sneaked in past the Hawks in the final field. The Golden Hurricane were the last of the at-large bids on Sunday, with Wichita State, Michigan and Vanderbilt following behind in the First Four.
On Sunday it appears that the Hawks were one of the most hotly debated teams as they made their final choices.
“It came down to the very last vote. It was really tight between Tulsa, Monmouth, St. Bonaventure, South Carolina and Valpo, “Castiglione said on Sunday night’s conference call. “We recognize in the case of Monmouth, or teams like Monmouth, we want to say right up front, they had an outstanding season. They did some things that the committee values: trying to strengthen their non-conference schedule. Teams like Monmouth only have a few opportunities to get top-100 wins. So their 3-4 record versus those teams wasn’t as much of a factor, although they weren’t in the top 25. It was really the case with their three losses outside of the top 200. Of course, we combine that with the use of all the different analytics that we have available to us.”
“No other team in the field had multiple losses against teams below 200. In the end, in a very, very close vote, they just didn’t have enough. I could just tell you, we all recognize what they did. We would encourage them and other teams like them to utilize a similar strategy because short of those multiple losses against teams below 200, it might have been a different outcome.”
Their reward for a MAAC regular season championship will be a top seed in the NIT, where they will host Patriot League regular season champion Bucknell on Wednesday at 7:30pm on ESPN3.
“We are happy for the teams that will participate in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and wish them the best of luck,” Monmouth head coach King Rice said in a statement. “We are disappointed that we were not selected, but are excited to continue our season as part of the National Invitational Tournament.”
On Monday, after the Hawks fell in the MAAC championship game to Iona, Rice said he thought his team had done everything they could to cement an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. On Wednesday, Castiglione pointed out the Hawks strong resume against the field of at-large candidates and, as is NCAA protocol, all regular season champions are considered in the final field.
“We evaluate their resumes based on what they have done. We recognize the great season Monmouth had, the quality team they are,” Castiglione said on Wednesday adding that the NCAA considers all regular season champions. “We know they’re a team that went on the road 17 times during the course of the season and won 13 of those. That doesn’t even include the six neutral-site games they played. So among their 34 games this year, 23 were played away from home, and they won 17 of those games. So those are additional considerations that will be included in our discussion.”
Monmouth scheduled as hard as a mid-major could have this season, playing all but one non-conference game on the road. They managed to beat teams that are in the field (USC and Notre Dame) and teams that had disappointing years to miss the NCAA tournament (UCLA and Georgetown). In the Advocate Invitational, the Hawks fell to Dayton 73-70, a team that split the regular season championship with VCU and St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 with a 14-4 record.
“Their résumé is filled with road and neutral-court wins, which are important factors,” Castiglione said on Wednesday. “Those wins are over teams that will or perhaps will be part of the field. Plus I think if you watch them, you can tell they’re a quality team. We certainly have watched them throughout the season. I can’t imagine a scenario where they won’t be discussed throughout the week.”
Yet in the end, those discussions, whatever they were, changed the Hawks chances. Midway through the airing a two-hour special to reveal the field, the second half of the full bracket leaked to Twitter and the Hawks found themselves on the wrong side of the field. A team with an RPI six spots behind Monmouth managed to pass them in the NCAA tournament field.
“In the case of Tulsa, it was their four top-50 wins, including a road win over SMU,” Castiglione said Sunday, adding that they were the final team selected of the at-large pool. “They had eight top-100 wins. You add some context to that, six of those eight top-100 wins were over teams that are in the tournament.”
Tulsa compiled a 3-5 record against top 50 teams in the RPI, while Monmouth went 2-2. The reason given as to why the Hawks were not considered for the NCAA tournament were their three losses against teams below an RPI of 200.
“We recognize teams like Monmouth have a hard time trying to get games outside their conference. They did everything you would want a team like them to do, they were 3-4 against top teams,” Castiglione said on the CBS Selection Show. “But it was those three losses, those losses below the 200 RPI line, that really hurt them when it was all said and done.”
It appears the breaks that Monmouth needed since Monday night’s loss did not arrive. Michigan drained a buzzer beating three-pointer to down Indiana 73-69 in the Big Ten quarterfinals may have doomed the Hawks. Vanderbilt, even losing their first game in the SEC tournament to Tennessee, managed to sneak by the Hawks with their 2-7 record against Top 50 RPI opponents. Or it might have been Northern Iowa winning the Missouri Valley after upsetting Wichita State to steal a bid.
It is clear that the night was a disappointment for the MAAC, who were looking to get two teams into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.
“It’s a shame they didn’t [get in], but the Selection Committee knows better than we do,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said at their Selection Show party, where the Gaels became the only MAAC team in the field. They draw Iowa State on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m very disappointed for Monmouth and King Rice, I felt they deserved to be in the field,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “It seemed to me they did exactly what the committee historically has asked mid-majors to do if they want an at-large bid… schedule up, go on the road, and win those games, then go and win your league over the two grueling months, and lose on the last possession of the championship game of your tourney? Just disappointing for Monmouth and our league. I felt they earned their way in.”
“It’s tough. I hope they win the NIT. They deserved the NCAA, should have gotten in,” Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos said. “But now they have to make sure they win those home games with that great crowd and atmosphere.”
Monmouth will be part of a Barclays Center event next season which gives them games against South Carolina and Syracuse, they also have a trip to North Carolina planned. They return almost their entire roster, other than senior Deon Jones who graduates, and project to be the MAAC favorite, but the question now remains: who will be interested in playing the Hawks?!
They should get a few return games from their road-heavy schedule last season, but it remains to be seen how much the Hawks could do for the 2016-17 season that they did not accomplish this season.
Vincent Simone contributed to this story.
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.