Saturday, December 19, 2009

Iona's Fast Start Includes Providence Win

The Iona men's basketball team might be 0-2 thus far in conference play, but it's 7-4 overall and those wins include a victory over Big East opponent Providence ... AT Providence, no less ... recently.

You're not-so-humble blogger will take a pat on the back for knowing this was coming.

While conference coaches picked the Gaels to finish ninth in this year's standings, yours truly opined that Iona would finish sixth and had this to say:

6) Iona. Five returnees who all saw some time in last season's starting lineups, two solid red-shirt freshmen become eligible and four touted freshmen ... if it all comes together, Gaels could be better than this.

"Better than this," indeed. Iona's two losses in league play so far are to Saint Peter's (56-54) and to Siena (60-73), both picked to finisher higher than the Gaels in the preseason poll.

Yours truly watched the Siena-Iona game via an internet feed, and the Gaels were close for much of that contest.

Since then, Iona has won three straight, including the 82-73 victory at Providence.

And, the Gaels are likely to get better as the season goes on. Iona has six freshmen on its roster (two are red-shirts, meaning they were in the program last season but did not play), and the 19th youngest team on the Division I level.

"Beating a Big East team on the road, it helps to do those things you're trying to do," Iona coach Kevin Willard told the New York Post after the Providence victory. "It helps solidify things like recruiting and establishing ourselves as a good program."

It has been a few years since Iona's team could claim to be that. Its last winning record was in the 2005-06 season when it finished 23-8 and was the conference's representative to the NCAA tournament.

Since then, starting with 2006-07, its records have been 2-28, 12-20 and 12-19.

Iona is getting good again, and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Its only seniors are 7-foot forward Jonathan Huffman (8.1 points per game), its fourth-leading scorer; and, guard Milan Prodanovic, who is barely in the playing group averaging just 11 minutes per game.

And, you'd be hard-pressed to identify a real star on the team, a sure-thing post-season all star. If there is one, it's sophomore point guard Scott Machado (11.1 points, 4.3 assists), who averages a team-high 28.1 minutes per game.

It means the team is solid throughout and deep, using at least 10 players a night, all averaging at least 11 minutes. It means the Gaels can come at you all night with an uptempo style and fresh bodies.

And, it means that this blogger might have been right with his preseason asssessment when referring to a pick of Iona for 6th place it was added "...if all comes together, the Gaels could be better than this."


Mulldog said...

I do agree with you, though a home loss to St. Peter's is a very bad thing in my opinion. Obviously losing to Siena, home or otherwise, is excusable, listening to the radio feed I didn't get the sense that they were too competitive though that is an interesting note. Iona's biggest problem to me is that the only bad loss it suffered was in conference. They have two good wins, but both are out-of-conference in Creighton and Providence. I guess we will find out if this team is for real or not Jan. 2, as they will be coming off a loss to UCONN, and headed to Western NY to take on Niagara.

Until they show me something in conference though, I'll remain a bit skeptical. Defensively, I like how they play the game. Offensively, however, they struggle to find ways to score beyond making threes. On top of that, they lack solid size and get absolutely crushed on the boards. If they can find some more versatility on offense and turn their rebounding margin into something in the realm of average they could end up the 4th or 5th best team in the MAAC...if not, I'm not so sure.

Good read.

Steve Amedio said...

Mulldog ... thanks for your well-done response.
Actually, I don't consider a loss to a good Saint Peter's team to be a "bad" one.
Still, doesn't hurt to remain skeptical.
My intention was to take a look at what Iona might have in place, and the look does produce some optimism on my part. Most certainly it is indicative that better days are ahead for the Gaels not only as this year progresses, but beyond that.
OK, rebounding remains a concern. But 6-10 Chris Pelcher appears just about ready to contribute, so that will help. I've seen him play a number of times in high school. He is a rugged inside player.