Sunday, March 11, 2012

MAAC Sends Two, Loyola and Iona, To NCAA's

For just the second time in the 31-year history of the MAAC, two men's teams have advanced to the NCAA tournament.

We already knew about Loyola, which captured the conference's automatic berth by virtue of winning the league's post-season tournament.

And, during Sunday night's NCAA Tournament Selection Show we discovered that Iona's hopes for an at-large berth came to fruition.

The only other time the MAAC had an at-large entry to the NCAA field was in 1995 when Manhattan, with its 25-3 overall record, got picked after Saint Peter's upset the conference field to win its post-season tournament and get the automatic berth to the Big Dance.

Iona, though, didn't get the best of breaks. The Gaels have to survive a play-in game, one of the so-called "First Four" games, when it plays Tuesday against BYU at 9 p.m. in Dayton. The winner of that game then gets seeded as a No. 14 in a 16-team bracket and advances to the field of 64 for a first-round game against No. 3 seed Marquette on Thursday in Louisville.

Loyola is a No. 15 seed and will face No. 2 seed Ohio State Thursday in Pittsburgh at the CONSOL Energy Center. Game time is expected to be announced on Monday.

"This is a great event for Loyola as a school, and we are happy to share it tonight with our fans who have been a great support to us this season," Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos said at a Selection Show gathering on the campus of the Baltimore school (Patsos' comments come via the Loyola sports information office).

"We are very excited to represent Loyola, the MAAC, Baltimore and the state of Maryland in the NCAA tournament."

The Greyhounds are making just their second all-time appearance in the NCAA's. Their other trip was also as a No. 15 seed in 1994 when the late Skip Prosser coached the team. It played Arizona that year and the Wildcats defeated Loyola, 81-55, in Sacramento, Calif., on their way to a Final Four appearance.

Loyola takes a 24-8 record into the tournament, and its win total is the second-highest in school history (the 1947-48 team had 25 wins), and highest victory total in the school's Division I history since it moved to that level in 1981.

Oddly enough if Iona survives its First Four-round contest on Tuesday, it joins the field of 64 one seeding position higher than Loyola.

"They were not the last team in," NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Jeff Hathaway is quoted as saying, about the Gaels, in a number of reports. "They had a very good non-conference strength of schedule ... I think we got that one right."

No matter. Iona is in, and certainly a welcome surprise for its head coach Tim Cluess, who told reporters earlier this week that his team wasn't gathering (to watch the selection show) because he would rather be surprised than disappointed. Cluess also admitted to reporters during the week that he was checking out the potential NIT field.

Had Iona not received the at-large berth in the NCAA's, it would have played in the NIT. Now, no MAAC team will be part of the NIT field, although to other conference teams (Manhattan and Fairfield) will also be involved in post-season play. Both the Jaspers and the Stags were previously announced as participants in the tournament's field.

In that event Manhattan plays at the University at Albany in a first-round game, while Fairfield's first-round contest will be against Yale.

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