Why Monmouth deserves an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament

Courtesy: Photo by Taylor Jackson/ Monmouth University

They’ve got one of the best point guards in the country, a 5-8, 175-pound dynamo named Justin Robinson, who crashed onto the national scene last year and has only gotten better, averaging 19.6 points and 4.7 assists per game.

They’ve got another capable scorer in Micah Seaborn, who puts up 13.2 ppg, and at 6-5, 190, looks the part of a high-major player.

And they’ve got yet another big-time guard in 6-3 senior Je’lon Hornbeak, who literally is a high-major player, a transfer from Oklahoma who contributes 11 points per game.

If you gave Monmouth jerseys that said “Syracuse” or “USC,” airhead analysts like Joe Lunardi and Jay Bilas would have them in the tournament.

Instead, because they play in the MAAC, they’re not even mentioned in ESPN’s “Bubble Watch.”

In this unfortunate era of bloated super-conferences that span the continent and allow for teams like Clemson with 6-12 (!) conference records to be considered “on the bubble,” it would be a heartening change to see a team like Monmouth grab an at-large bid into the Dance.

Monmouth’s Micah Seaborn (10) drives to the basket as North Carolina’s Justin Jackson (44) chases during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. North Carolina won 102-74. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

It wouldn’t be an act of charity by the selection committee. It would legitimately be deserving.

Monmouth went 27-6 during the regular season, 18-2 in MAAC play. They won the league going away for the second straight year, with the effusive Robinson earning MAAC Player of the Year honors for the second straight year, something only four guys in conference history have done.

Last season, the Hawks were snubbed despite a 27-7 record, and a 17-3 mark in the MAAC. They had the honor of being yelled about by Dickie V as the biggest snub in the 68-team field on Selection Sunday, and they deserved to be in then.

This year’s group doesn’t have as many quality wins as last season, when they knocked off USC, UCLA, Georgetown, and Notre Dame.

But it’s virtually the same team, a year older, with a better record.

Monmouth lost by one point at South Carolina in November. The Gamecocks spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25.

They went on the road and beat Memphis. They beat Princeton, which finished a perfect 14-0 in Ivy League play.

They led at halftime in their MAAC semifinal game against Siena, 39-25, before an unconscionable explosion of three-pointers (including seven by Nico Careth) miraculously did them in. The Saints scored an absurd 64 second-half points en route to an 89-85 win. It was perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in Monmouth basketball history.

If one half of basketball is enough to keep a 27-win team out of the tournament, then what is the regular season even for?

Maybe, as Mick Cronin said, the selection committee is all about television money and “selling tickets.”

Maybe it’s not about fairness in competition.

If it is, then Monmouth, like George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011, should get in based on their ability to make a run. Those teams were chosen by committees willing to take a leap of faith with a mid-major, and adding them proved to be the right decision, as both marched to the Final Four.

Selecting a prolific mid-major over a mediocre major conference team is always the right move, because let’s face it, they deserve the opportunity more.

Anyone who’s watched Monmouth this season knows they legitimately pass the eye test. They’re long. They’re quick. They’re well-coached. They’ve got capable scorers. They’ve got athletes.

We already know what Clemson is this season. We already know what Syracuse is. We sure as hell know what Georgia is, yet mystifyingly, they’re in Lunardi’s “Next Four Out.”

We don’t quite know how good the Hawks can be, now that they’ve gelled. Now that they’re fully healthy, having closed the season winners of 18 of 21 games. Having a culture of winning matters when the calendar turns to March.

There’s only one way to find out what Monmouth can do against the big boys.

Put them in the bracket.

Anyone who’s watched them play this year knows they won’t disappoint.


Related: Are there any good teams left in college basketball? 

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