Last season was filled with program-defining moments for the Monmouth men’s basketball team. The Hawks picked up wins against UCLA, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown, compiled a 28-8 record and won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season championship.
Virtually everything that could go right, did go right for Monmouth — up until the championship game of the MAAC Tournament, where Monmouth lost to Iona.
The loss cost the Hawks what would have been the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in a decade. Despite multiple out-of-conference wins against ranked opponents and a nation-leading 17 victories away from home, the Hawks were one of the first four teams left out of the tournament.
As consolation for its NCAA snub, Monmouth received a No. 1 seed in the Postseason NIT, but just like the MAAC Tournament, the NIT ended in disappointing fashion for the Hawks, as they lost to eventual-champion George Washington in the second round. The loss ended a once-promising season, and left a sour taste in the Hawks’ mouths.
Fast-forward six months to the start of a new season, and the Hawks are hoping to build on last year’s early-season success, while avoiding the losses that doomed their team a season ago. The Hawks return virtually everyone from last season’s roster — 15 players to be exact — and are overwhelming favorites to win the MAAC.
The question everyone wants to know is whether or not the Hawks can use the momentum they built from last season, along with an abundance of returning talent, to catapult the program into the national spotlight.
The answer to that question is yes.
A major reason why Monmouth can take the next step is reigning MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson. The 5-8, 160-pound senior guard averaged 19.3 points per game and 3.7 assists per game last season for the Hawks, and brings a strong veteran presence to the team.
Joining Robinson in the backcourt is another key player, MAAC Rookie of the Year Micah Seaborn. He averaged 13.2 points per game last season as a freshman, and is expected to take a step forward this season with a year of experience under his belt. Together with Robinson, Seaborn gives the Hawks a powerful 1-2 scoring punch that will give opposing defenses plenty of trouble.
The Hawks hope that Robinson and Seaborn will lead them to a few more early-season upsets this season. They’ll have a couple of chances mid-November with matchups against South Carolina (Nov. 15) and Syracuse (Nov. 18). The Syracuse matchup is an especially good opportunity, because the Orange lack experience on the perimeter to counter Monmouth’s talent. Meanwhile, South Carolina presents another beatable foe from a power conference, similar to Georgetown and Rutgers last season.
If the Hawks can pick up a few marquee wins in November and December, they’ll be a prime contender to enter conference play on the cusp of being ranked for the first time in school history. They were at that point last season, but a few bad losses to teams in conference play ruined any chances of being ranked, or getting an at-large bid.
This season should be different. The Hawks won’t have to worry about an A.J. English-led Iona team derailing their title aspirations. Instead, their biggest competition in league play will be a Siena team that, although very experienced, is still less experienced and less proven than Monmouth. On paper, the Hawks should have no issue running through the MAAC on their way to another championship.
All things considered, the season has the potential to be even better than last for Monmouth. If the Hawks can pick up a few big wins early in the season and take care of business in conference play, they’ll be in a good position to not only make the NCAA Tournament, but earn a decent seed and have the chance to advance.
It all depends on whether the Hawks can learn from last season’s mistakes, and take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.