The nation’s Division I level assist leader might come out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference … again.
A year ago it was Siena’s spectacular passing point guard Ronald Moore who led the all players from more than 340 Division I schools in assists with 7.7 per game.
This season Iona’s junior point guard Scott Machado is in contention for that individual statistical title.
Machado, through Friday’s victory at Rider, is No. 2 on the national assist list averaging 8.41 per contest. He trails only Aaron Johnson of UAB, who checks in at 8.57 per outing.
Clearly the 6-1 Iona junior has emerged as one of the most-effective practitioners of his position nationally, making a significant step forward from a year ago when he averaged 3.8 assists per contest.
Of course Iona’s new up-tempo style also helps. The Gaels are averaging more than 80 points per game this season after scoring at a 66-point per game rate a year ago. Still, the dramatic playing style change accounts about a 20-percent increase in possessions for Iona and, in theory, a similar rise in assists for Machado, but definitely not a nearly 120-percent jump in his assist totals.
“I’m just seeing openings better, inowing when guys are going to make their move, knowing when to get them the ball better,” said Machado, in a recent phone interview. “Plus I’m taking care of the ball better, I value possessions more.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Machado, the Gaels’ leading scorer a year ago, now has 6-foot-7 forward Mike Glover, an almost automatic assist converter, on the other end of his passes, many of them of the alley-oop variety. Glover is the MAAC’s leading scorer, averaging 21.4 points per game with an incredible .665 shooting accuracy from the field, the fourth-best percentage nationally.
“We’ve developed great chemistry,” said Machado, about his work with Glover. “We’re kind of like Raymond Felton and Amar'e Stoudamire of the Knicks.”
"They've been great in different ways," Iona coach Tim Cluess said recently to the Rockland Journal News. "I think they make each other better, too. They both make the team go."
The two knew each during their high school days, playing summer-league ball in New York City.
"We kind of had that chemistry way back when," Glover told the Journal News. "So I pretty much give him that look and he pretty much knows what to do with the basketball. I trust Scott. He's one of the reasons why I chose to come to Iona. He probably doesn't know that."
The results of all that are clear. After averaging a barely acceptable assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.37-to-1 over his first two years, Machado has 143 assists to 63 turnovers, a 2.27-to-1 ratio this season.
He is already just Iona’s second player in the program’s history to record 100 assists in each of his three seasons (Marvin McCullough was the first), and his assist average this season is almost certain to set a new Gael standard, breaking the 6.5 assist-per-game average of Glenn Grant set in the 1988-89 season..
Machado’s 415 career assists is currently No. 7 on the school’s all-time list and he is almost certain to surpass the program’s leaders, No. 1 Rory Grimes (558) and Tony Hargraves (539), either late this season or early next season.
It all has come despite a coaching change to Tim Cluess, but Machado even had a little bit of advantage in that regard.
“I played for coach Cluess my freshman year in high school (At St. Mary's of Manhasset),” said Machado. “He’s similar to what he was back then. He’s still hard-nosed and expects a lot out of you, and he does everything he can to help you fulfill your potential. Plus, he runs a similar style than what he ran back then, so it was an easy adjustment for me.”
An easy adjustment to a new coach, a new teammate adept at converting passes to basket, an uptempo playing style and the national maturation of a player ... it all adds up to Machado having a chance to be the second straight MAAC player to lead the nation in assists.