Coach Rice Challenges Team Early

The men’s basketball team opens their 2012-2013 season with non-conference play against some of the top collegiate basketball teams in the nation.

The Hawks will face teams from six different conferences, including the Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), Atlantic 10 (A-10), Patriot League and America East.  Of these teams, seven qualified for NCAA postseason games last season. 

Head coach King Rice, who is in his second season with the team, is not picking easy teams for the Blue and White to square up against in non conference play. “When I got here, I said I was going to change things. First thing I thought about was the schedule. I want Monmouth to be one of the best, most respected teams in the Northeast Conference, and the way to do it is to challenge teams that are better then you,” said Rice.

The players on the team feel the same way, like the rest of the coaching staff, about scheduling tough opponents in the beginning of the season to get them ready for NEC play. “It gets us ready because we know if we can hang tough against these bigger schools then we can beat anyone in our conference.” said senior guard Jesse Steele.  “Also, being from a small conference, games aren’t as hostile as some of those big arenas so it gives us experience in playing big in conference games.”

 MU, who started last season on the road for the first nine games, opened up their season in the Multipurpose Activity Center with a 91-62 win against Hofstra on November 9, starting the season 1-0 for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.

The men’s team will also host Big East contender Villanova on December 22. With the Wildcats playing in West Long Branch, Rice hopes to “Pack the MAC”, not just for this game, but for all Hawk home games.  Rice explains, “Everybody always wants to see the big time places. Villanova coach Jay Wright is nice enough to play us every year, one year their place, the next (year) at our place. We need our fans to come out just to see us.  We shouldn’t have to bring in Villanova or someone else.  The way we get people out (to games) is by getting the word out to the student body, having our guys invite them and winning some games to support the Hawks.”

When asking Steele about his thoughts on having Villanova coming to the MAC this year, he said, “It feels great and we’re so excited for that game vs. Villanova. We feel that we can definitely knock them off this year. We hope to have a sellout crowd. The atmosphere is going to be crazy.”

A majority of the tougher out-of-conference games will be on the road.  Two key games will be against Syracuse (Dec 8), who made it to the Elite 8 last year, and also Maryland (Dec. 12). For Steele, Maryland is the non-conference game that is circled on his calendar.  “I can’t wait to play against Maryland because I’ve always been a Maryland fan since my dad pole vaulted there,” explains Steele.

The team also took part in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.  After dropping their first two games in the classic to 20th ranked Notre Dame and Georgia State, the Hawks were able to win the final two games in the sub-host rounds against South Alabama and Tennessee State.

The Hawks are affected by cancer as well; Rice feels that this is the least the team can do to help others. “A lot of people have been affected by cancer; my mom’s a cancer survivor, my wife’s aunt passed away from cancer about two weeks ago, so anything we can do to draw awareness to such a great cause, I’m all for that,” Rice stated.

Although the games are a challenge because of the opponents, the team feels that this can help them in conference play.  Even though the teams the Hawks will be playing are more well-known than MU in college basketball, Steele and the rest of the squad still enter every game the same way. “As a team we try to impose our will on the other team, whether they are ranked or not, so our mindset does not change when we play against those bigger schools,” said Steele. “I try and tell myself that I’ve put in just as much work to try and be the best player I can just like the players from ranked teams so it relaxes me and I’m able to play my game.”

With Rice’s decision to make the schedule so tough, he hopes it helps the Hawks come time to play against NEC opponents.  Monmouth was picked seventh in the preseason rankings and look to improve throughout the season.  “Last year was very helpful for NEC play,” Rice said. “It definitely helped us last year getting us to 10 wins because we played such a hard schedule early, hopefully this year will help us get to 14 wins.”

Non-Conference games will continue through the rest of the 2012 year, as January 3, 2013 starts NEC play. 

Their first NEC matchup will be on the road against Wagner, with the NEC home opener being February 10 against St Francis (PA).

Here’s The Scoop About NCAA Bowl Games: It’s More Than The Numbers

Dan Gunderman / Staff Writer

After a grueling twelve weeks of regular-season football, some teams are poised to receive a nice and relaxing break before they take part in a bowl game. If they are lucky enough to compete in such a game, there is a lot of preparation involved, along with an adjustment to the rules behind the process.

Some teams will have over a month off, so circumstances may change from the final whistle of game 12 to the opening kickoff under the lights of a bowl game. As a fan, there’s definitely a few things to monitor if your team is about to take part in college football’s strangely designed system.

Also if you are a bettor (for pride of course), there’s a handful of aspects to the break that you may want to monitor. These include coaching changes, relationship with media, the transferring process, injury and attitude changes.

A team may be undefeated and have a Heisman candidate, looking to breeze through college football’s final test in the BCS Championship Game, but receive a huge setback when team cohesiveness falls through and no contingency plan is in place.

Even if the spread seems good, and the ESPN analysts have sipped the team’s Kool-Aid, there’s always more to this impactful break than meets the eye. As a fan, you have to be on a constant lookout for changes that take place because of the month of rest.

First off, although the season is not really over after the regular season, it pans out that just after the final game, teams like to re-hire coaches and bring in new ones, so these changes can take hold before the holiday. Or you can have a coordinator, who is quite powerful in the locker room as the “voice” of a number of players leave and take a head coaching spot or different position somewhere else.

Staff mixing and matching usually always takes place, and affects a high-caliber team that the public thought was good and had victory in the bag. Team chemistry can plummet after a coaching change, and if you see that the team’s attitude has fluctuated, chances are you may want to hold off with the thoughts of champagne, streamers and victory parades.

Second, to borrow a concept from a handful of communication textbooks, the media plays a significant role in agenda-setting, and in sports it can be quite telling. If the media picks favorites, labels underdogs and starts assuming they know exactly what will happen, college athletes start becoming affected.

Though it may seem subtle, the shockwaves of a media prediction really hit teams in the gut. Players may start thinking more (or less) of their role, their coach’s impact, etc. and when they have weeks to kick their feet up and relax, the changes may be recognizable. The key is, when watching media interviews with the coaching staff and players, make sure you compare the break-time interviews with the normal, regular-season ones. If anything seems a bit different or out of whack, it may hint at a larger internal problem. Refrain from choosing teams who have this internal strife, because talented or not, the team may be strongly influenced by what people like Kirk Herbstreit, Reece Davis, Jesse Palmer and Brent Musburger have to say (just to name a few).

Next, the overarching effects of transfers can hit a team very hard. After the season, some non-starters or disgruntled players, and admittedly impactful players bail on their current institutions and look to play elsewhere. This transfer is allowed to, because if it goes through procedurally, they can be a part of their new team after Christmas and be participating in spring practices to allow them to play the following season.

So when you have role players one day, but not the next, you may have to significantly adjust your game plan going into the January (or late December) bowl game. Any team that may have to shift a kick returner, or find a quality special teams tackler, or backup defensive end (just to randomly show some role positions) because their current one has left is in for a bit of trouble. Refrain from crowning these guys champs if this dilemma becomes apparent.

Finally, arguably the most impactful aspect to the long break that ensues after the NCAAF regular season is the effects of injuries and attitude changes with the squad. As far as injuries go, a team may look completely different when they run out of the tunnel in January than they did in late November. They could look horrifically worse, or surprisingly much better. Injuries may have had time to heal, or could have just been brought on in one of the many practices that coaches hold during the holiday season.

If you find that your team has just lost a goal-line rusher or notable receiver, you may want to start cringing a bit. But on the other hand, if someone who has missed a few games is poised to return for the bowl game, a new personality may be brought back to the team. It’s hard to say exactly how injuries will affect the squad, but it’s safe to assume that the injury report ticker on ESPN or on an online forum should be your best friend as a fan during the month of December.

In terms of team attitude, there is a lot that players go through during the holiday season. For the first time in months, they may have some down time, or be returning home to see their families. Or, they may be hitting the town and getting into trouble. Although the coach’s policies reign strong during this odd break, there always seems to be the chance of some sort of trouble that results. If teams have to deal with personal issues of star players or have to deal with NFL scouts having already spoken with them, some more conflicts could hold the team back from their full potential.

Like I said, there a lot of things to evaluate before you fall head over heels for a team and their prospects in the NCAAF version of the playoffs. It may seem a bit “overkill” to go through all these situations step by step, but in order to be completely aware and confident in a Bowl Game, look beyond the numbers and what you may hear every day. It takes a little investigative work to understand this odd break. During one of the NCAA’s 35 BCS and invitational games, there’s an overwhelming chance that one of these previously stated issues will take place; and that’s a prediction I will stand behind.