NCAAB: It’s time we recognize Monmouth University’s basketball program for something more than its playful bench: Winning, and a place in March. 

By Gregg Cambareri

Okay, so we all have come to know and love the Monmouth University men’s basketball bench, because they do stuff like this:

Whether it’s been on TV, Twitter, or some other media channel, the Monmouth bench has gained recognition.

They have become somewhat of a national sensation because of their creativity and unorthodox celebrations. Heck, they even made an appearance on SportsCenter:

Yes, it’s great entertainment. However, it’s about time we focus on the athletes having one of the best seasons in the history of the program.

The Hawks boast an 18-5 overall record, maintaining an impressive 10-2 mark, tops in the MAAC. This little Cinderella story, isn’t so little anymore.

What is happening in West Long Branch, NJ, is very, very rare. Monmouth currently holds an RPI of 28th, which should mean an at large bid when comes selection Sunday in about 6 weeks. Normally, a mid-major program playing in a conference as low-key as the MAAC, absolutely needs to win their conference tournament to gain access to the Field of 68. This might not be the case for the 2015-16 Hawks.

The RPI the Hawks possess is almost unheard of for a MAAC school. However, the selection committee won’t look favorably upon a strength of schedule ranked 121st in the nation. This begs the question: Do the Hawks have a strong enough resume for an at large bid, or is winning the conference tournament the only way into the Big Dance?

Consider the schools the Hawks have toppled this campaign: UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown. They are part of power-5 conferences, and have held rankings inside the Associated Press top 25 at multiple points this season. The Hawks have 5 wins against teams from power-5 conferences and 6 wins against the RPI top 100. All of the aforementioned victories have either come on the road, or on a neutral court. Schools like Monmouth aren’t supposed to be able to compile wins of that caliber.

But they have.

Let’s also consider style points–Monmouth has lost some close games to top tier schools, but not by much. The Hawks defeated USC (RPI #18) earlier this season, but also fell to the Trojans by a final of 101-90; scoring 90 points on the road against a top-20 RPI program is definitely worth noting.

A November loss to Dayton (18-3, RPI #12) by only 3 points looks pretty darn good right now. If the selection committee values style points as close losses, the Hawks should be in good position when comes March. There is, however, a few things hurting their chances.

The Hawks have lost 3 games to teams outside of the RPI top 200–Canisus, Army, and Manhattan. That hurts, especially because a small school just isn’t going to get the same respect of those playing the Big 10, ACC, Big 12, etc. However, all three of those losses did come on the road, somewhat softening the blow.

If you’re objectively viewing the Hawks resume, the good certainly outweighs the bad. Their remaining schedule before conference tourney time sees them face no opponent with an RPI better than 166. That opponent? A heavily anticipated home matchup with Iona on the 19th of this month. Remember the tensions that spilled over into the post game during their last matchup? A sure to be sold out Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC) in Central Jersey is going to be rocking.

The Hawks have gone toe to toe with some of the nation’s top programs, and held their own. Their bench is easily the most fun group to watch in college basketball, but the on court success finally deserves some respect.

Central jersey born and bred. Monmouth University alumnus. Sports are not games, rather ways of life. Twitter: @Gcam92 Contact: