The ‘Human Hoop’. The ‘Sistine Chapel’. The ‘Katniss Everdeen’. ‘Angry Birds’. All of these have nothing to do with the actual game of basketball, but have been swirling around the Monmouth Hawks all season long.
From the outset of the season, the bulk of the attention surrounding the Hawks has been centred around the celebrations of their bench players. Their creative, yet sometimes over-the-top celebrations have caught the eye of pretty well everyone in the college basketball world, and chances are you’ve seen some of the videos (unless you live in a pineapple under the sea).
The purpose of this piece is not designed to throw some ‘shade’ on the guys on the bench for having fun and cheering on their teammates. Sports are all about having fun, and these guys are doing it the right way.
Rather, I am saying that the attention around the Hawks should be focused on the play of the team as a whole and the reasons these guys are celebrating, not the fact that their celebrations are unique.
The Hawks have a real chance to be an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament if they don’t take home the MAAC title, and people need to start realizing just how good the team is on the hardwood.
Monmouth wasted little time bursting onto the scene in 2015-16. In their first game of the season, they went on the road to historic Pauley Pavilion and took down the heavily-favoured UCLA Bruins. Those who stayed up late on the East Coast were treated to one heck of a game, and the Hawks came away with the 84-81 overtime win, behind 19 points from Collin Stewart.
A loss to the USC Trojans and a win over the Drexel Dragons followed, and the Hawks went down to Orlando, FL to take part in the AdvoCare Invitational with a 2-1 record. With the likes of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Xavier Musketeers, and the Wichita State Shockers, Monmouth found themselves as the underdogs once again.
As we all saw against the Bruins, the Hawks were out to prove people wrong.
The Hawks took down the then-#17 Fighting Irish to open the tournament, and they were far from done. A close loss to the Dayton Flyers sent the Hawks into the 3rd-place game, where they would get some redemption by taking down the USC Trojans.
Monmouth’s play in Orlando caught the eye of the nation, but it was the bench that garnered the bulk of the eyeballs.
Some thought the Hawks would fall back to Earth after they ‘over-achieved’ to start the year, but the reality is, they are soaring higher than ever.
They have continued their strong play after their trip to the Sunshine State, going an impressive 10-2 in their last 12 games. Losses to the Canisius Golden Griffins and the Army West Point Black Knights have been their only blemishes, and they have separated a pair of five-game winning streaks.
In their winning streaks, road wins over the Iona Gaels, the Georgetown Hoyas, and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have highlighted what has been one of the best runs in the entire nation. Monmouth has emerged as a top contender in the MAAC this season, and taking down the Gaels on the road has pushed the Hawks to the top of the conference totem pole.
The end results have been there, but what about the players who have helped get the Hawks to their 14-4 record on the year, and 5-1 in conference play?
Before the Hawks’ game on Monday afternoon against the Siena Saints, nine different players had played in all 17 games for the Hawks this season, and 10 have appeared in at least 15 contests. Six players are averaging at least 6 points per game, while nine players are averaging at least 10 minutes of floor time per contest.
Point guard Justin Robinson is the undisputed leader of the Hawks this season, despite standing at just 5’8” tall. In the Hawks’ 85-69 win over the Saints, Robinson topped the 1,000-point mark for his career at Monmouth, giving him another impressive feat in his career-best season.
Robinson leads the team in scoring, averaging 20.6 points per game to go along with 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest. He has the ability to stretch the floor, using his strong three point jumper to hurt teams from the outside, and his court vision to find open teammates for better looks at the basket.
Oh, and he can finish at or above the rim with his incredible athleticism.
Robinson is the player that makes the offense tick and runs things from the back end, but several other pieces keep things running smooth across the floor. Freshman sensation Micah Seaborn is having himself a strong first year in the NCAA, averaging 13.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
Forwards Deon Jones (9.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Chris Brady (7.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) anchor the front court for the Hawks, taking some pressure off the guards. Their statistics won’t blow you away, but they are effective and do their jobs well.
Add in Oklahoma-transfer Je’lon Hornbeak (8.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg), and the Monmouth Hawks have a deep, balanced roster who are more than capable of knocking off any team on any given night. UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown can all attest to that.
From top to bottom, the Monmouth Hawks are a team who are a legitimate threat to make a deep run come NCAA Tournament time. With their strong non-conference resume, the Hawks could receive an at-large berth into the Big Dance if they don’t win the MAAC tournament come March.
The team is loaded with talent, and are playing with a high level of confidence. All of that is bad news for the MAAC.
Again, this isn’t designed to hate on the Monmouth bench players. Rather, what they are doing is what we all want kids to see in sport. It shows them that basketball is, indeed, just a game, and you should have fun playing the game. With that said, more respect should be given to the Hawks for their on-court play, as they are on quite a roll and show no sign’s of slowing down.
Moving forwards, we ask that you pay more attention to the on-court play of the Hawks, and less attention to the celebrations of the players on the bench.
If you don’t, you will be missing out on one of the stronger mid-major teams we have seen in recent years, and this team is something you do not want to miss.
To everyone who is constantly talking about the bench celebrations: quiet, please.