Justin Robinson and Monmouth, controversially left out of NCAA Tournament field, open postseason play in NIT on Wednesday, hosting Bucknell in West Long Branch. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
Almost all of the talk surrounding Monmouth since their narrow defeat in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship has been focused on whether or not the Hawks were good enough to receive an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament, something only two MAAC teams have ever done. But for all the positives on Monmouth's resume, the selection committee decided that the three losses to teams with an RPI below 200 ultimately cost the Hawks a spot in the field of 68, a decision that was widely panned on social media and one in which one of the Hawks' prime competitors felt was the wrong choice.
"All the way," Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, who is always complimentary of his opposition for better or worse, said of Monmouth undeservedly being on the outside looking in while he was a guest on SNY's Geico SportsNite. "I think they really missed the ball on that one. Monmouth is a terrific basketball team, they have a great player in Justin Robinson, a great coach in King Rice. They did everything that you could ask a mid-major team to do. They led the country in road and neutral site wins, won their regular season conference championship, had a great success when they played up, so to speak, at UCLA, beat USC, beat Georgetown, beat Rutgers. I don't know what else they could have done to get in, and I think it just really sends the wrong message. They should have been in, in my opinion, but hopefully they get that win."
Monmouth opens the National Invitation Tournament Wednesday, as the Hawks welcome Bucknell to the Multipurpose Activity Center in the first round of the nation's oldest postseason tournament. As long as they keep winning, Monmouth is guaranteed three home games in West Long Branch before the semifinals and championship of the 32-team event are held at nearby Madison Square Garden.
Their first opponent is a Bucknell team that will face its fourth MAAC opponent of the season on Wednesday, with tipoff slated for 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3. At 17-13 on the year, the Bison are 1-2 against MAAC schools, defeating Manhattan in November before being narrowly upended in overtime by Siena and losing a 101-91 shootout to Fairfield. Both of the latter two teams are competing in postseason play as well, with Siena opening up the College Basketball Invitational on Tuesday against Morehead State while Fairfield hosts New Hampshire Wednesday in the CollegeInsider.com tournament. With an average of 17.2 points per game, senior guard Chris Hass is the leading scorer for the Bison, with sophomores Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas combining for over 23 points and 12 rebounds per game. Fellow second-year talent Stephen Brown will battle with Robinson at the point guard spot, and the Virginia native has proven to be quite an adept passer, dishing out an average of 5.3 assists per contest. Ryan Frazier and Dom Hoffman are deceptively strong shooters that serve as potentially lethal ancillary options for a team that shoots 37 percent from three-point range, something the Hawks must address in their game plan.
The winner of this game awaits either George Washington or Hofstra in the second round of the NIT, and although King Rice did not issue any further comment after the unfortunate circumstances of Selection Sunday, his MAAC Player of the Year and point guard spoke for the unit as a whole.
"Let's go win the NIT," Robinson tweeted.
Let's go win the NIT. #Hungry 😤— Justin D. Robinson™ (@CallmesScoop) March 13, 2016
Their mission begins Wednesday night.