At Monmouth, Confidence Oozes Up and (Very Far) Down the Roster

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 30th, 2015

There simply aren’t many teams in college basketball with a better trio of wins to this point than Monmouth, power conference or otherwise. The Hawks, picked to finish sixth in the MAAC, have already toppled UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, upset #17 Notre Dame in the AdvoCare Invitational and staved off USC to place third in the event. From a mid-major perspective, King Rice’s bunch simply owned the month of November. And yet, despite the spate of upsets and already-exceeded expectations, Monmouth’s achievements on the court have taken a backseat to its swagger directly off of it. You already know what we are talking about here: that bow-and-arrow-shooting, touchdown-tossing, feather-flapping, best-show-in-town bench mob of theirs. Not only have the antics been picked up by myriad blogs and news outlets around the country, they earned split-screen airtime during the team’s semifinal and third-place games over the weekend. But while the bench’s hilariousness and popularity is obvious and undeniable (the crew’s Twitter handle, @MonmouthBench, now has over 3,300 followers), its tangible connection to Monmouth’s on-court success deserves a deeper look. After all, what could be a better reflection of team culture than a bunch of no-names performing choreographed, multi-act celebration routines?

Daniel Pillari, Greg Noack and Monmouth's bench are taking college hoops by storm. (Getty Images)

Daniel Pillari, Greg Noack and Monmouth’s bench had some fun in November (Getty Images)

Make no mistake – the Hawks have talent, and their winning ways are not altogether shocking. Diminutive point guard Justin Robinson, a 5’8” preseason first-team all-conference pick, ranks sixth nationally in scoring (24.4 PPG) and racked up 77 combined points over the holiday weekend on his way to being named the AdvoCare Invitational MVP. Junior Je’lon Hornbeak, once a four-star recruit, has been an immediate contributor since transferring from Oklahoma. So too has freshman Micah Seaborn, another highly-touted prospect who went for 20 points against USC on Sunday, including 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. Deon Jones (7.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG), Collin Stewart (11.0 PPG) and Chris Brady (7.2 PPG) are all upperclassmen who have developed into solid players during their time in West Long Branch. This team is built to compete. Yet, Rice, a former North Carolina point guard under Dean Smith, seemed to suggest before the season that the toughness-based culture change he sought to create in 2012 has only now come to fruition because of his decision to loosen things up. “I think I understand the position probably more than when I first started, I learned everything doesn’t have to be my way or the highway type of deal,” he told the Asbury Park Press in mid-November.

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Big 12 M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 6th, 2014


  1. It was a lot more than Senior Night on Wednesday for Kansas center Tarik Black. In his final game at Allen Fieldhouse, the senior scored 19 points on 9-of-9 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and had two blocks in Kansas’ 82-57 blowout of Texas Tech. It was a huge effort from Black, who will also start in their regular season finale Saturday at West Virginia as Joel Embiid continues to rest his sore back. If Embiid returns for the NCAA Tournament and doesn’t play as many minutes as he was, having Black make this kind of impact would result in the Jayhawks becoming more dangerous than they already are.
  2. I’m not sure what the allure is between NFL personalities and Kansas basketball, but Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stopped by to watch the Jayhawks and gave a pep talk after practice in January. Yesterday San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was there to do pretty much the same thing and then this happened. Harbaugh hit a half-court shot during practice because… why not? But I’m not so sure he would have made the shot if he wore anything other than his trademark sweater and khakis. I’m a little curious to see what kind of person Harbaugh is when he wears something else, if he wears something else. We may never know.
  3. Oklahoma’s Je’lon Hornbeak had a breakout game in the Sooners’ season home finale. In 22 bench minutes, Hornbeak contributed 11 points, five rebounds, three dimes and two steals in the team’s 72-62 win over West Virginia. The performance comes on the heels of his nine points and five dimes in 18 minutes against Texas on Saturday. A win Saturday at TCU would lock the Sooners into the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 Tournament, and meanwhile, WVU’s road to an at-large bid appears to have reached a dead end. They’ll have to win the conference tournament to force their way into this season’s Dance.
  4. It was Senior Night at the Frank Erwin Center as Texas hosted TCU on Wednesday. The problem was that the Horns don’t have any seniors… but they still had a good night anyway! Rick Barnes rested leading scorer Jonathan Holmes due to a sore right knee, but his squad was able to get by the Horned Frogs, 66-54. Isaiah Taylor led the team with 21 points while Cameron Ridley (my vote for the Big 12 Most Improved Player award that I just made up in my head) posted 14 points and 10 rebounds. Texas needs to beat Texas Tech Saturday coupled with an Oklahoma loss at TCU to clinch the second seed in the Big 12 Tournament next week in Kansas City. Hang on, folks, the Madness draws nigh.
  5. A difficult season for TCU basketball got worse with head coach Trent Johnson announcing Monday that Amric Fields is out for the rest of the year because of a recurring knee injury. According to TCU360, only four of 16 total players have suited up in every game this season, which just stinks. To make matters worse, a loss to Oklahoma Saturday would result in TCU becoming the first Big 12 team to go winless in conference play since Texas A&M in 2003-04. Stash the season away and never look at it again, TCU fans. Here’s to a better 2014-15.
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Big 12 M5: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 11th, 2013


  1. It’s been a long two weeks for Kansas, and the Jayhawks took another lump on Tuesday night, dropping their second straight game and their third in the last 11 days, in a loss to Florida.  Andrew Wiggins was fantastic, leading all scorers with 26 points, or put another way, roughly one point for every time a draft analyst has changed his mind about him. The freshman phenom just didn’t get the help he needed as the Kansas guards turned the ball over at an astronomical rate, giving the Gators enough extra possessions to reel off a 21-0 run over eight-plus minutes in the first half. The Jayhawks made a run and got as close as five points from tying the game, but couldn’t get over the hump. We’ll have more on Kansas’ struggles later today, but while we aren’t jumping ship on Bill Self’s team, it’s tough not to look ahead and wonder how KU’s non-conference losses will impact their NCAA Tournament seeding no matter what happens in Big 12 play.
  2. We’ve yet to hit winter break, but West Virginia has really painted itself into a corner after losing to Gonzaga last night. The Mountaineers have no quality wins on their resume to counteract losses to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, and now the Bulldogs. They’re essentially out of opportunities to make an impression in non-conference play, which makes their margin for error razor-thin. According to KenPom, WVU has a top-50 offense and top-100 defense but their at-large hopes will rest on their ability to do damage against the top half of the Big 12 while avoiding losses to the league’s bottom-dwellers.
  3. Oklahoma‘s improvement this season has been one of the more overlooked stories around the conference, but the Sooners were dealt a blow at practice Tuesday morning when guard Je’lon Hornbeak broke a bone in his left foot. The sophomore will miss four to six weeks, and if that timetable holds true to form, it pegs his return a few games into conference play. While Hornbeak is sidelined, the Sooners should be fine against Tulsa and Texas-Arlington, but their match-ups against Texas A&M, Louisiana Tech, Texas, Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State just got a little more challenging. Hornbeak didn’t start for Oklahoma, but Lon Kruger’s team will need to find some extra depth on their bench to bide the time – either that or hope for a surprisingly early return a la Melvin Ejim.
  4. Five days after squeaking by Ole Miss, Kansas State pulled another escape job at home, toughing out a 65-62 win over South Dakota last night. Freshman guard Marcus Foster led the way with 18 points, but needed 20 shots from the floor to get there. The Wildcats just aren’t getting the balance they need offensively to show that they can compete with the better teams in the Big 12; Foster and Shane Southwell combined to take 34 of Kansas State’s 62 shots on Tuesday, and were actually outshot by the Coyotes to boot. While they’ll happily take the win, the Wildcats did very little to instill much confidence going forward.
  5. After all of those downers, let’s end today’s M5 on a happy note, shall we? With Finals Week lightening the slate, it’s a good time to evaluate how teams are doing, and perhaps no unit has been as impressive as Iowa State‘s offense. The Cyclones lead the nation in points per game and are second in assists per contest, and as we noted yesterday, three different players on Fred Hoiberg’s roster have taken home Big 12 Player Of The Week honors. They aren’t without their shortcomings — poor offensive rebounding and a defense that hasn’t shown much interest in turning other teams over — but for all the talk of Oklahoma State and Kansas being the alpha dogs this season, it is Iowa State that owns the league’s only undefeated record.
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Morning Five: 12.11.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 11th, 2013


  1. We would hesitate to call Oklahoma a surprise in the Big 12 since we thought they were pretty good even before the season started. They may not be in the upper echelon of the conference, but they are a step right below that. Now they will have to do it without sophomore guard Je’lon Hornbeak, who will be out for 4-6 weeks after breaking a bone in his left foot. Hornbeak is certainly not a star, but does a little bit of everything averaging 5.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game for the team coming off the bench. Fortunately for the Sooners their schedule the next month should be very manageable even without their full roster.
  2. There have been plenty of times where we have discussed players being academically ineligible in this space, but we are having a hard time remembering school disregarding the rules regarding eligibility as blatantly as Southeastern Louisiana did when it allowed 137 athletes to compete while academically ineligible over a period of five years. Yesterday, the NCAA handed down its penalties to the school: probation for four years, a $25,000 fine, reduction in scholarships, and vacate victories from 2005 through 2010. According to the AP, the majority of the violations were in football and men’s basketball. Interestingly those programs were not hit that much harder than the other sports. Although the school did not acknowledge intentionally playing ineligible athletes they admitted a lack of institutional control in allowing those individuals to compete.
  3. Given the way that various governing bodies have handled player eligibility over the years we were surprised to hear that the NAIA agreed to let Cameron Rodriguez, a basketball player at Southwestern College, keep the $20,000 he won hitting a halfcourt shot at an Oklahoma City Thunder game. To his credit, Rodriguez reported the prize to the NAIA as under a strict interpretation of NAIA rules he  did technically use his athletic skills to make money. Of course, when we say keep the money we actually mean that the money Rodriguez won will be used for a scholarship. So technically he isn’t really keeping the money although he could get some nice tax benefits out of it. In an odd way, the NAIA won this battle to as it was able to get the headline it wanted, but still keep the money out of a student-athletes hands by giving it to one of its member institutions.
  4. Some people might think it is too early to consider player of the year candidates, but at the very least it does serve as a good way to analyze who has been performing well this season. So at some level, Kelli Anderson’s Wooden Watch provides some insight into the season thus far. As she points out, Shabazz Napier belongs on the short list of the season’s most significant players based on his contributions to a Connecticut team that has found a way to win several very close games this season. While Napier has played at an extremely high level and has some support around him, he will need his teammates to become more productive if he wants to keep on winning and be a legitimate player of the year candidate at the end of the season.
  5. Yesterday, we mentioned Gary Parrish’s impassioned defense of Scott Drew on the CBS podcast. He followed that up with a full post in which he expounded on the idea that it has become hip to ridicule Drew even if there is no basis to it. We can appreciate Parrish’s sentiment although we are having trouble reconcile it with some of the in-game strategy and adjustments that we have seen from Drew’s teams. Still, Parrish’s point on Drew is well taken as we (mostly joking of course) and others at times may be unjustly harsh on him as his track record so far has been exceptional.
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Big 12 Season Wrap: the Highs, the Lows, All the In-Betweens

Posted by dnspewak on April 15th, 2013

In a big-picture sense, the Big 12 provided us with no surprises this season. Kansas won the league again, TCU finished in last place, five teams made the NCAA Tournament, and all was right with the world. It wouldn’t have taken Nostradamus to make those predictions. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting six months, however. There were flops–most notably from the state of Texas. There were overachievers–most notably from the state of Oklahoma. There were thrilling finishes, blown calls, standout freshmen and that one time Kansas somehow lost to TCU. Oh, and one team even won a championship this season in, well, the wrong tournament.

Game of  the Year: Kansas 68, Oklahoma State 67 (February 20)

This showdown in Stillwater was simultaneously the best and worst game of the Big 12 season. How’s that for logic? After the Cowboys stunned Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse earlier in the winter and literally celebrated by doing back flips on the court, this revenge game took on even more importance in the league standings. Had Oklahoma State won, it would have seized the proverbial driver’s seat along with Kansas State and would have made the Jayhawks’ path to the regular season title very difficult. We had drama. We had overtime. Two, actually. And we had a game-winner in the final minute of regulation by Naadir Tharpe, who shook off a rusty performance to hit the go-ahead jumper with 16 seconds to play. Instant classic, right? Certainly. The problem was, it was perhaps the ugliest game ever played by two top-15 opponents on the same floor. Kansas did not make a field goal in the first overtime and it did not make a field goal in the second overtime until Tharpe’s game-winner. That’s almost 10 minutes of basketball without a basket. In overtime! Overall, the two teams combined to shoot five for 32 from beyond the arc. Ben McLemore played 49 minutes, missed nine of 12 shot attempts and finished with seven points after barely touching the ball in the overtime periods. And that’s the best game of the year? We still stand by our decision. This was the game that changed the complexity of the Big 12 title race, and two free periods of basketball is never a bad thing.

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Bill Self Won Another Big 12 Title (Photo credit: AP Photo).

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kansas 108, Iowa State 96 (February 25): Asterisk on this one. Kansas beat Iowa State in Ames — where the Cyclones hadn’t lost in more than a year — but it needed a blown call at the end of regulation to get the opportunity. You remember the situation. Elijah Johnson‘s charging toward the basket with five seconds left in the game, his team trailing by two points. Georges Niang sets his feet and takes what appears to be a pretty standard charge. But there’s no call, the ball bounces on the floor and the officials eventually blow the whistle on Niang during a scramble. That allows Kansas to tie the game and win in overtime behind Elijah Johnson’s epic 39-point performance. The Big 12 would later admit its referees should have called a charge, but that’s a moot point right now. It’s a shame we’ll remember this game as the No-Call Game as opposed to the Elijah Johnson Game.
  • Oklahoma State 74, Baylor 72 (March 14): The Bears needed a victory in this Big 12 quarterfinal to give themselves a chance for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Then they fell behind by 20 points. Dead in the water. Except Pierre Jackson started raining jumpers and floaters all over the place, and Baylor inexplicably tied the game in the final minute of regulation. But the officials made a controversial foul call (that’s a trend this year, across all conferences) and sent Phil Forte to the line, where he made both. That’s an exciting finish in and of itself. But it got even better: Nobody’s quite sure how it happened, but with just seconds left on a desperation, mad-dash possession, Jackson dribbled straight through two Oklahoma State defenders and found himself absolutely, completely wide open from three-point land. He had a chance to win at the buzzer. No hands contesting him, no defender in sight. He missed. That sent the Bears to the NIT, and at least they won that tournament. But Jackson’s failed buzzer-beater signaled the end of Baylor’s tourney chances, and it was another dark moment during an underachieving season.

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Big 12 M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 20th, 2013


  1. Thank God it’s Wednesday because on paper, Tuesday gave us an undesirable match-up between bottom-feeders Texas and TCU. Surprisingly enough, it was a pretty good game. Texas came into the contest shooting 40% from the field as a team while committing more turnovers per game (15.5 TOPG) than anyone in the Big 12. Last night the Longhorns shot better than 50% and turned it over just eight times. It’s a night like this that accentuates the importance of a player like Myck Kabongo (seven assists, two turnovers), who played only his third game of the season. Even TCU (13.7 TOPG) had nine TOs in a losing effort. There’s a lesson to be learned from this: You shouldn’t judge a game by the teams playing in it.
  2. This year’s Oklahoma State squad is different than the ones in the recent past. Yes Marcus Smart has something to do with it but much of the Cowboys’ success has relied on winning close games. Four of their games in the current seven-game winning streak have come against probable NCAA Tournament teams and were all won by five points or fewer. How does that compare to years past? In games decided by four points or fewer, OSU went 4-3 in 2011-12 and 5-5 in 2010-11. That’s a good way to separate the men from the boys.
  3. The biggest game on Wednesday night may not be in Stillwater. Baylor and Iowa State are playing for the second time this season with major bubble implications. There’s a lot of talent on both sides but neither team has been able to put it together for an extended stretch. The Cyclones nicked the Bears by eight earlier in conference play, but while their tournament profiles are still lacking, a win in this game would go a long way.
  4. We got an unexpected storyline from Monday’s West Virginia-Kansas State game. Eron Harris, a freshman guard for WVU, was seen crying on the sidelines shortly after fouling out in just eight minutes of action. After checking back into the game, Harris had committed separate technical and personal fouls that sidelined him for the rest of the game. If there’s anything we know for sure, the young man plays with purpose. His increased playing time in conference play has shined a light on his abilities as a scorer. About him crying, wouldn’t you? Yeah it’s been a rough season but in Harris’ mind, he’s trying to do anything he can to come up with a W. So when he receives questionable foul calls and learns that his night is over before it really began, you’d feel helpless. Sometimes in life, people cry when they feel helpless. Nothing wrong with that. Oh, and it seems like he’s over it. 
  5. Not enough can be said about the job Lon Kruger has done this season. It takes a brave man to give his freshmen regular playing time with an already seasoned basketball team in place. Je’lon Hornbeak is an excellent example of this. Kruger took the point guard by trade and moved him out on the wing. So far, so good. Hornbeak is averaging 8.7 points per game in his last three contests since fellow freshman Buddy Hield went down with an injury. Once again: brave, unconventional. Kruger may be on his way to Big 12 Coach of the Year.
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Lon Kruger Listened to Us, and Sam Grooms Helped OU Win

Posted by dnspewak on January 13th, 2013

Lon Kruger doesn’t need our basketball advice. The man was a two-time Big Eight Player of the Year at Kansas State in the early ’70s, and as a head coach, he’s won more than 500 games and reached a Final Four in 1994 with Florida. Oh, the dude coached the Atlanta Hawks once, too. Point is, Kruger knows what the heck he’s doing, and we’re guessing he doesn’t develop his scouting reports and pre-game preparations based on advice from idiots like myself.

So no, I don’t think he read my article published this Monday, in which I pleaded with the Oklahoma head coach to give senior point guard Sam Grooms more minutes. I wrote that article earlier this week because I could not offer any plausible reason for why Kruger had played Buddy Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins — three freshmen guards — ahead of the Big 12’s leading returning assists man. Here’s a guy with an absurd assist-to-turnover ratio, no defensive liabilities and no reason to be in the doghouse, and yet Kruger opted to cut Grooms’ minutes in half from a year ago and replace him in the starting lineup through the first 13 games of the season. The Sooners weren’t playing poorly, but I didn’t see any significant improvement overall from a year ago. Scratch head and repeat. What in the world was Sam Grooms doing on the bench?

Lon Kruger Gave Sam Grooms The Most Playing Time He'd Seen All Year (Las Vegas Review)

Lon Kruger Gave Sam Grooms The Most Playing Time He’d Seen All Year (Las Vegas Review)

For the 14th time this season, Grooms sat on the bench to start the game Saturday in another edition of the Bedlam series. Oklahoma threw the first punch against rival Oklahoma State at home by knocking down perimeter jumpers and keeping the Cowboys’ high-flying wings out of the paint. With Grooms playing reserve duty, the Sooners opened up a 32-18 lead. Who needs Grooms now? Hield was playing terrific basketball in his first Bedlam game, and OU’s offense seemed to be clicking even without Grooms. Suddenly, though, the shots weren’t falling anymore. The Cowboys began to attack the rim and get to the free throw line, and that 14-point lead had turned into a 50-45 lead with 11:50 remaining in regulation.

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