CAA Men's Basketball

Monmouth Men's Basketball Preview: Can Hawks Fly Into The CAA Title Hunt?

Monmouth Men's Basketball Preview: Can Hawks Fly Into The CAA Title Hunt?

Monmouth men's basketball is ready to break a streak of near-misses - and be known more for the product it brings onto the court.

Sep 30, 2022 by Briar Napier
Monmouth Men's Basketball Preview: Can Hawks Fly Into The CAA Title Hunt?

Monmouth men's basketball is ready to break a streak of near-misses - and be known more for the product it brings onto the court.

Beyond having an entertaining "bench mob" that has gone viral in the past and has a Twitter account with over 10,000 followers, the Hawks have made a conference tournament final three times in the past seven seasons, with no NCAA Tournament appearances to show for it.

But for a team coming off a 20-win campaign and entering a new league in the Colonial Athletic Association, the change of scenery could mean the start of a new era in Hawks basketball - one its fans and players hope brings frequent appearances on the national stage beyond bench celebrations on social media.

What is there to look out for with Monmouth men's basketball this season? 

Below is a look into what the Hawks will bring to the table for the 2022-2023 season, as FloHoops previews every men's basketball team in the CAA.

2021 Season Review

Could it have been Monmouth pulling off one of the greatest Cinderella runs in sports - let alone NCAA Tournament - history last season? 

The world won't ever know for sure now, but the point is that the Hawks were within a possession in the game's final minutes of winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament against New Jersey neighbor Saint Peter's in March, before eventually falling, 60-54, ending their season. 

The Peacocks, of course, then went on to make an unprecedented run to the Elite Eight as a No. 15 seed, winning the hearts of college basketball fans everywhere, and Monmouth was left wondering what could've been. 

The Hawks can't sulk for long, though, as they have a new league and a whole bunch of fresh opponents to face this season. 

Graduate guard George Papas (14.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game) earned an All-MAAC first-team selection for his play last season, but the bad news for the Hawks is that he won't return this year, along with the team's other four starters, who all left the program. 

Role players will have to step up across the board in the hyper-competitive CAA, especially if Monmouth wants to seriously compete for a trip to March Madness for the first time since 2006.

On The Court

Former North Carolina standout player King Rice has been the coach of the Hawks for over a decade, winning three MAAC Coach of the Year awards in his time in West Long Branch. 

Conference realignment is something he's tackled before as the head of the Hawks, as Monmouth moved from the Northeast Conference to the MAAC for the 2013-2014 season, which should help the Hawks navigate their new league.

How quickly Rice's play style translates in the fresh atmosphere, no matter what kind of pace it ends up being, is the real question. 

Generally speaking, over the past several seasons, the faster Monmouth plays, the better.

During the 2016-2017 campaign, when the Hawks won the MAAC's regular-season title with a 27-7 overall mark, Monmouth averaged 72.4 possessions per game and took around 14.7 seconds a possession (per KenPom), both marks being very high and fast, respectively, by national Division I averages. 

Last season, those numbers dipped and rose to 66.2 and 17.3, respectively, resulting in a points per game average of 68.6, well-below the Hawks' highs (above 80 points) in Rice's tenure. 

Monmouth teams also tend to get to the free-throw line often. The Hawks have ranked in the top 100 nationally in free-throw rate for five straight seasons (and in the top 35 four times), being around to just above the national average in actually making them (72.8% in 2021-22).

Key Returner

Myles Foster, F, Jr., Brooklyn, New York

To say that it's important that the 6-foot-7 Foster takes a jump in his development this season might be understating it. 

The junior, who has started one game of a possible 53 over his two years at Monmouth and averaged 5.3 points per night last season, is the Hawks' leading returning scorer from a year ago and had the most significant playing time of all the players that came back, too, along with senior forward Jarvis Vaughan (19 games, four starts). 

No incoming transfers are listed on Monmouth's roster, leaving there to be much Division I inexperience in the ranks and, as a result, a need for maturity and poise to come quickly. 

Foster should get a massive uptick in playtime, as he's only played 20 minutes or more in one game in his college career - and the Monmouth coaching staff will hope upticks in his stats will come with it. 

There are some things to like about the Brooklyn native, however. Out of all of Monmouth's players that got on the court in at least 30 games last year, Foster had the second-highest field goal percentage (53.2%) on the team behind the player he'll probably be replacing at the four slot, Nikkei Rutty. 

However, with just two 3-point attempts in his career, Foster largely is limited to 10 feet and in with his scoring abilities, leaving Rice to likely have to look for options elsewhere for perimeter offense.

Key Addition

Amaan Sandhu, C, Fr., Punjab, India

The developments of all of Monmouth's new additions are particularly important this season, as there are no transfers with Division I experience listed on the squad. With that being said, the new freshmen bring plenty of intrigue. 

The 7-foot Sandhu has been getting attention for his reputation as a trailblazer. NBA Academy India made him part of the development school's inaugural class of prospects in 2017, and after playing prep ball in the United States with First Love Christian Academy in Pittsburgh, he impressed the Monmouth staff enough to earn an offer and become the first Indian-born scholarship Division I men's basketball player. 

Sandhu isn't the first player of Indian origin to play D-I college hoops, though. Former New Mexico State giant Sim Bhullar and Clemson starter Pasha Bains are some notable figures who came before him, but as the first player directly from India at this level of the sport, there will be a lot of weight on Sandhu's shoulders in being the first of possibly many to come out of a country where basketball is exploding in popularity. 

Already a frequent feature for his country's national team - he helped India with the gold medal at the 2019 South Asian Games - his experience playing on an international stage while competing against grown-adult professionals should serve him well as he adjusts to the Division I game.

Game To Watch: Monmouth Vs. UNC Wilmington, Dec. 28, TBA

How's this for a welcome to your new conference? 

The Hawks maiden CAA league game will come against the Seahawks, who won a share of the conference regular-season title (with Towson) last season and was one of the few teams in America to finish its year with a win, emerging victorious in the College Basketball Invitational as a No. 9 seed - the second team from the league to win the event after VCU did it in 2010, one year before the Rams' historic run to the NCAA Tournament Final Four. 

UNCW coach Takayo Siddle - the CAA's reigning Coach of the Year - is an emerging name in the coaching shuffle following his team's 27-win season, though he did sign a contract extension with the school in April to keep him around through March 2027. 

Spoiling the Hawks' welcome party to the conference probably would be something the Seahawks would be glad to do, and with players like senior guard CAA All-Defensive Team selection Shykeim Phillips (11.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals per game) leading the line, UNCW can definitely make that happen. 

To Monmouth's benefit, though, the game will be held in New Jersey and should bring forth a fun atmosphere, considering the circumstances and the ongoing holiday season. If the Hawks can pull of a win or show that they can compete with the best of the CAA, the jolt of momentum could give them a boost for the months of conference play ahead.