Thursday, March 1, 2012

MAAC Men's Preview: Taking a Look At Iona

Here's the last preview on men's teams for the MAAC tournament.

Plays at 4:30 p.m. Saturday vs. the winner of Friday's Marist-Saint Peter's game

WHAT IONA HAS: Just about everything, including enough quality non-conference victories to set it up well for an NCAA tournament at-large berth should it fail to win this event and the automatic qualifying berth. But, the Gaels would rather earn their way in and they have more than enough to do so. The talent level is high, although three regular-season losses (Loyola, Manhattan, Siena) is proof that on a given night they can beaten and stamped the Gaels as a very good conference team, but not quite deserving of the upper level of truly "special" MAAC teams over the years. And, yet, Iona is capable of blowing out any opponent. What does it have? The nation's leader in assists in Scott Machado as the facilitator who can chose the direction of his passes to the league's top-scoring big man in senior Mike Glover, the league's most-explosive player in junior Lamont "Momo" Jones (a 43-point break out game this season), or the league's best long-range shooter in sophomore Sean Armond (a MAAC record 10 three-pointers in a game this season), among others. At its best, the Gaels are an unstoppable offensive force, resulting in having the highest per-game scoring average nationally.

WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: Not much else inside other than Glover, who does most of his work in close. If he can be denied and the outside shooting goes cold, teams have a chance to beat Iona. Siena did it with a choking zone defense that clogged the middle on a night Iona shot miserably from the outside. Manhattan did it by out-running Iona, and Loyola did it with a well-balanced attack and energy. In truth, though, those off nights are few and far between and opponents beat Iona not because they're better but because the Gaels aren't up to their usual standards.

HOW IONA CAN WIN: Just by being close to its best for three straight nights. What it can do offensively is reminiscent of the Siena teams under Paul Hewitt that also led the country in scoring and took opponents out of what it tried to do. The Gaels shoot over 50 percent from the field, and have an unwordly 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in a league where no other team has more assists than turnovers. Iona will need its outside shots to drop, but they usually do. The Gaels have enough offensive weapons to survive if one or even two are misfiring. It would be a surprise if Iona doesn't win the tournament title, but not a monumental one as regular-season losses have shown.

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