Redshirt junior Deon Jones returns to lead a young Monmouth team that should surprise more than just a handful of people in Hawks' second MAAC season. (Photo courtesy of Monmouth University)
Lost in both the dominance of Manhattan and Iona and emergence of Quinnipiac in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season was how much the other MAAC newcomer exceeded expectations with a scrappy roster that managed to compete in nearly all of their 20 conference games. Despite the remarkable growth, the bar for Monmouth remains set lower than some other programs in the area, but the stage is once again set for the Hawks to leave their prognostications squarely in the rearview mirror.
When head coach King Rice, never one to shy away from a challenge or let anyone know exactly what it is that plagues his team at any given moment, released Monmouth's schedule last week, two things stood out. First, his young; yet experience-laden, roster will face their share of stern tests early and often in the nonconference season, beginning with a November 14 opener inside a hostile environment against West Virginia in Morgantown and including road trips to Maryland (November 28) and likely American Athletic Conference championship contender SMU. (November 30) Second, the Hawks benefit from home games in the non-league portion of the year against a possible postseason threat (CAA frontrunner Towson on November 23) and an in-state high-major making an uncharacteristic trip down the shore in Rutgers, who invades the Multipurpose Activity Center in West Long Branch on December 28.
Following the West Virginia game, the Hawks open the doors to the MAC for three games as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, welcoming Bethune-Cookman (November 21) and former Northeast Conference rival Central Connecticut State (November 22) before the aforementioned collision with Towson precedes the journeys to Maryland and SMU. MAAC play will begin on December 4 for Monmouth, who heads into McCann Arena to meet Marist before coming back home three days later for a battle with Tim Cluess and Iona, the 2013-14 MAAC regular season champions.
The renewal of a rivalry with Fordham (December 10) at Rose Hill Gym is next on the slate before the Hawks wax nostalgic with a pair of former NEC adversaries in Wagner (December 20 in Staten Island) and St. Francis Brooklyn, whom Monmouth greets in the Garden State on December 23 prior to hosting Rutgers. Rice's young charges will then ring in 2015 with the dreaded "Buffalo trip," taking on Canisius January 2 and Niagara on January 4 before a home showdown with Quinnipiac (January 9) precedes a trip to in-state rival Rider on the 12th of the month.
Home tilts with Saint Peter's (January 14) and Fairfield (January 18) will serve as precursors to a rare January nonconference skirmish, one which comes against Penn at the historic Palestra on the 21st of the month to start a stretch of three games in five days that also includes a home game against Niagara on January 23 and a battle with reigning conference champion Manhattan at Draddy Gym on January 25.
The Jaspers return the favor by coming to the MAC on Super Bowl Sunday, (February 1) but not before the Hawks head up to Bridgeport on January 30 to take on Fairfield. A return meeting with Quinnipiac takes place in Hamden on February 5 before Canisius visits the MAC on February 8 for the first time since Andrew Nicholas' buzzer-beater lifted Monmouth to an unlikely 83-82 upset of the Golden Griffins. Next up for the Hawks will be Siena on February 14 in Albany before Marist comes to New Jersey two days later. A February 19 soiree in Jersey City against Saint Peter's will be next on the ledger, with Monmouth's final road game coming on the 22nd against Iona. The Hawks conclude the regular season at the MAC for a two-game homestand against Rider on February 26 and Siena on March 1.