Monday, July 15, 2013

Team Report: Iona Men Among Favorites Again

Here's another in the "Team Report" series looking back and ahead at conference programs.

Up now ...


2012-13 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play (4th), 20-14 overall.

2012-13 RECAP: The proverbial roller coaster with a 6-6 overall start, followed by a 7-1 stretch, followed by a 1-6 dip, followed by a 5-0 surge that included three wins in the MAAC's post-season tournament to earn a trip to the NCAA's. There, the Gaels were no match for a highly talented Ohio State squad, losing 95-70.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Any 20-victory season that includes an NCAA tournament trip (the program's second in a row) means much went right. But, the Gaels had to do plenty of growing along the way. That they got things right down the stretch is a credit to the team's overall perseverance. One of the program's all-time point guards, Scott Machado, graduated a year earlier, as did big man Mike Glover, so the team needed to plug two huge holes. Roles changed and things went slow at first, seemed to pick up and, then, sputtered for awhile before the Gaels finally got everything right down the stretch. A big key, literally, was the addition of 6-8 forward David Laury (13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds) after he gained eligibility after the first semester, and he was the league's second-leading rebounder. Senior Momo Jones stepped up to be the nation's third-leading scorer. Sean Armond, a 6-4 senior-to-be guard averaged 16.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and his 112 three-pointers led the league and was the 14th-best total nationally. Another senior-to-be, 6-5 wing Tre Bowman had a nice season, and had a huge effort (20 points, 5 rebounds) in the MAAC tournament's championship-game victory over Manhattan. Without that, Iona might not have gotten past the Jaspers. Mostly, the Gaels bludgeoned opponents with a prolific fast-paced game, which resulted in them leading all Division I teams nationally in scoring average (80.4 ppg.) for the second straight year.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Nine new players joining the program last season meant considerable transition and adjustment, and the results were evident in the season-long ups and downs, until the final few weeks. Laury missed the team's first nine games before he became eligible. A standout freshman, 6-4 A.J. English began finding his stride (7.0, 2.5) and looking like an emerging star. And, then, a mid-season injury forced him to miss the season's final 17 games.The Gaels also struggled to find a replacement for Machado, who led the country in assists the previous year. Jones had the ball in his hands most of the time and led the team in assists (116), but also committed a high number of turnovers (114). Junior-to-be Trevon Sledge, though, did step in (108 assists vs. 58 turnovers) and was on the court for larger stretches as the season progressed. The team also lacked a second power player to assist Laury inside. That situation wasn't that much a cause for concern within the league, where quality big men were few, but showed up in a big way against Ohio State.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Hard to say, particularly since two very talented incoming players (transfers Mike Poole from Rutgers and Kevin Amayo from Marshall) both have waiver applications in with the NCAA to gain immediate eligibility. If both can play this year, then Iona might have even more firepower than last year and might be better than last year's edition. If neither waiver is approved, then the Gaels will still be one of the better teams in the MAAC. Laury should be one of the conference's best inside players, while Armand is a deadly long-range sniper who has expanded his game (5.1 rebounds per game last season, per instance) beyond just shooting. Bowman came on at the end and can be a force. English is expected to be healthy, and Sledge will be the full-time ball-handler. Add to that crew incoming junior college product Isaiah Williams, a 6-7 wing who averaged 17 points in 21.6 minutes of playing time last season and is nearly as good a perimeter shooter as Armand. Then, there are two big men coming aboard, 6-11 Daniel Robinson and 6-10 Ryden Himes, both from the prep school ranks. Shackquiel Scott, a 6-6 wing, is also coming in from a prep school. There's more transition ... the potential of six new players, and none of them from the traditional high-school-to-college route. But, Iona's tendency to find additions via transfers/JC's/prep schools means those coming in are more ready to contribute. And, things should keep rolling under the guidance of Tim Cluess, who gives his players considerable offensive freedom and mandates the fast-break tempo. Cluess nearly moved on after this past season, and was considered the front-runner to take the vacancy at Hofstra until that school refused to meet the considerable financial buyout Iona has in its coach's contract. His return is a big positive as he has shown himself to be one of the top two or three coaches in the league.

PREDICTION FOR 2013-14: Hard to make a definitive one without knowing if Poole and/or Amayo will be eligible. Without them, which appears (as of mid-July) to be the case, Iona is probably battling to finish second or third. But, one never knows which way the NCAA will go with eligibility waivers.If both are eligible, the Gaels are probably good enough to seriously contend for the top spot. They might be that good anyway.

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