Monmouth went 27-7 this year, beat UCLA, Notre Dame and USC and won 18 of its final 20 games. Unfortunately for the Hawks, one of those losses came to Iona in the MAAC Championship, and as a result, Monmouth missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
That’s got to be frustrating for Monmouth and for small schools everywhere, right?
“Oh, absolutely,” Stephen F. Austin head coach Brad Underwood said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “There’s nothing else they could do – except win their last game. We did that our first year. We won 17 games our first year away from home, and no Power 5 schools are doing that. . . . Monmouth has had an unbelievable year. (They had) two neutral-site wins against teams that are in the tournament in Notre Dame and Southern Cal. So yeah, I get the Power 5 conferences and night in and night out what they do. I do understand that. But it sure puts a tremendous emphasis on having to win your conference tournament. I’ve said it many times: to be at 18-0 or 17-1 in your regular season and know you still have to win two more to go (to the tournament) – that’s pressure.”
DA thinks it would be more equitable if regular-season champions received automatic bids to the tournament. Underwood agrees.
“I would be in favor of that very much,” he said. “I think what you do for 11 or 12 weeks (is important). It’s a tremendous amount of pressure to do it for 12 weeks and to keep battling through injuries or sickness. There’s tremendous reward in winning your conference, but I’d be a big fan of that as well. It would devalue the (conference tournaments), which would probably frustrate the powers that be, but I’m in agreement.”
Stephen F. Austin, to its credit, won the Southland Conference Tournament for the third straight year. The Lumberjacks (27-5) started the year 7-5 but have won 20 games in a row. They haven’t lost since Dec. 29 and open the tournament against No. 3 West Virginia (26-8) on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET.
“We were a little disappointed with being a 14, but we’re in, we’ve had a great season and we’re excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us,” Underwood said. “I thought we might slide into a 12 or 13 because of the win streak, but he didn’t. That’s okay. We’ll see if we can go do battle with a close and dear friend in Bob Huggins.”