Thursday, March 7, 2013

Men's Tournament Preview: Iona To Meet Canisius

Here's another in the series previewing men's games in the upcoming MAAC tournament.

No. 4 seed Iona (11-7 in MAAC play, 17-13 overall) vs. No. 5 Canisius (11-7, 18-12), quarterfinal-round game Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

WHAT IONA HAS: A little momentum, with two regular-season closing victories (over Loyola and Siena), and some of the best talent in the league, particularly in the trio of guards Momo Jones, Sean Armand and 6-8 do-everything forward David Laury. Jones, at 23.2 points per game, is the nation's third-leading scorer. He and Armand (16.8 ppg.) comprise the nation's top-scoring tandem. Laury averages 10.1 rebounds per game. Otherwise, though, head coach Tim Cluess has mixed and matched his starting lineup with 10 different players getting at least two starts. But, there's certainly enough talent here to play with any team in the conference on a given night.

WHAT CANISIUS HAS: Another of the league's more-talented backcourts and, arguably, the best point guard in the MAAC in junior Billy Baron (16.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists). He's joined in the backcourt by seniors Harold Washington (13.7 ppg.) and Isaac Sosa (12.1, 88 made three-pointers). There's also the requisite inside presence in 6-10 Jordan Heath (6.0 rebounds) and 6-6 warrior Chris Manhertz (8.8 rebounds). The team has strong depth, too, with two solid big men and two solid perimeter players coming off the bench. There should also be some confidence gained from success against No. 1 seed Niagara (a win and a one-point loss), No. 2 Rider (a win and a four-point loss) and No. 3 Loyola (a win and a four-point loss) and its first-round opponent Iona (a split).

WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: Consistency, probably predicated in the infusion of nine new players to the program since last season (including Laury, who didn't become eligible until the second semester). Has it hurt when Iona has been in close games? The Gaels' seven conference losses have been by one (twice), two (twice), three (twice) and five points. And, a BracketBusters' game loss to Indiana State was also by a single point. The team is also without talented freshman guard A.J. English, who had worked his way into the starting lineup before a season-ending injury after the team's 17th game. Iona, though, can score in bunches, particularly from long range. Armand is one of the best nationally from beyond the bonus stripe (101 three-pointers made), while four teammates have at least 26 made treys thus far. But, Iona also gives up a lot of points, and if the outside shooting is off it's susceptible.

WHAT CANISIUS DOESN'T HAVE: Like Iona, it might lack the cohesiveness that comes from playing together. Four of the team's key players are playing their first season for Canisius. Baron, a transfer from Rhode Island who got a waiver to become immediately eligible, didn't join the program in May. But, that's a special case since his dad is head coach Jim Baron and, assuredly, didn't have to figure out the best way to utilize his son on the court. The Golden Griffins, though, have been a little inconsistent particularly of late, losing three of its last five games and needing overtime against last-place Saint Peter's to get one of its final two victories.

HOW IONA CAN WIN: Simple ... make shots. When it does (and, it does more often than not), it can beat anyone, as attested two by a regular-season win over Niagara, one over No. 2 seed Rider and two over No. 3 seeded Loyola.

HOW CANISIUS CAN WIN: Like Iona, it would be no surprise if Canisius made a deep run here. And, like Iona, the Griffs rely greatly on long-range shooting. Baron, though, could be an edge because he is closer to the strong-passing prototypical point guard than his Iona counterpart Jones. Iona might have the best big man in this match up, but the Griffs' front-court depth is better and could be a factor.

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