Here's another in the series previewing the upcoming MAAC women's tournament.
No. 2 seeded Iona (13-5 in MAAC play, 18-11 overall) vs. the preliminary round winner of Thursday's Canisius/Saint Peter's game, Friday at 9:30 a.m.
WHAT IONA HAS: Star power, for one, starting with dynamic sophomore guard Damika Martinez (17.6 points per game), a first-team all-MAAC selection who led the conference in scoring for the second straight season. She is (it says here) one of the two serious candidates for Player of the Year honors (Siena's Lily Grenci is the other). The Gaels also have the sure-thing Rookie of the Year in 5-11 freshman forward Joy Adams (13.2, 10.1 rebounds), a second-team all-conference pick whose statistics indicate that she easily could have been a first-team selection (except league coaches traditionally slight freshmen for post-season honors). And, there's also sophomore guard Aleesha Powell (9.7 ppg., 3.2 assists), who did not get all-star recognition, but could easily have been a third-team pick. The Gaels also have the requisite role players, particularly with 6-2 shot-blocking center Sabrina Jeridore (90 blocks), steady point guard Haley D'Angelo (99 assists, 54 turnovers) and long-range bomber Cassidee Ranger (33-of-75 from beyond the stripe, 44.0 %). Iona, too, is red hot. After a sluggish 5-4 start to league play, it has won eight of its last nine including its last seven.
WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: A reason to think it can beat Marist, if both teams advance to the championship game. The Gaels have never beaten the Red Foxes during coach Tony Bozzella's time as Iona's head coach (29 straight losses). And, the most-recent meeting, Iona's last setback this season on Feb. 7, was a 63-40 lopsided victory by Marist. The Red Foxes also won the earlier meeting by 14 points. Surprisingly, considering that Adams is the league's top rebounder, Iona is also vulnerable on the boards, getting outrebounded by 1.6 per game. The other "doesn't have" aspect about the Gaels is experience. The top three players are two sophomores and a freshmen. There's only one senior (Diana Hubbard) in the playing group, and she only averages 10.1 minutes per game. And, the team's role players were all lightly used in past seasons. Still, the experience factor that did seem to adversely affect the Gaels for the first half of the season seems to have been overcome if the 8-1 finish is any indication.
WHAT IONA HAS TO DO TO WIN: As the No. 2 seed, Iona is certainly favored to get to the championship game, although getting there is never easy. Along the way, potential opponents Canisius (in the quarterfinals) lost one of its meetings with the Gaels by just five points. Semifinal-round possibilities are Fairfield and Siena, each of which won a regular-season game with Iona. The likelihood, though, is that Iona will survive to get to the championship and to almost assuredly find Marist there. "For any team to beat Marist you really have to value the ball and score the ball," said Bozzella. "They have so many different weapons. You have to score to beat them. You're not going to beat Marist by a 42-40 score." To get to the championship game, Iona only has to continue its late-season run. The Gaels' last eight wins, in its 8-1 season-ending run, have come by an average margin of 15.7 points.