Sunday, January 12, 2014

Iona At Marist Already A Meaningful Women's Contest

Here we are, barely a quarter of the way through conference play, and Monday night's schedule features as big a women's basketball game as we're likely to see this season.

It's Iona at Marist, 7 p.m., at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a rematch of last season's MAAC tournament's championship game.

They are the league's two remaining unbeatens so far. Iona is 5-0 in conference play and has an 11-game winning streak overall. Marist is 4-0 in league play and has a 10-game winning streak.

In recent years Iona has become the defacto league also-ran, if you will, the conference's second-best team. The best team in the league besides Marist.

Yet, that's like saying someone in the American League was the second-place team to the 1927 New York Yankees, or was the NBA's second-best team to all those Boston Celtics' championship squads during the Bill Russell era.

Except that Marist might even be a more-dominant dynasty than just about anything we've seen on any level of college sports.

How else to describe 10 straight regular-season championships and eight straight trips to the NCAA tournament (and, 9 of the last 10)?

Ask former Iona coach Tony Bozzella about how dominating Marist has been over the years. Bozzella coached the Gaels in the MAAC for the past 11 years before moving on to Seton Hall. His teams there went from perennial bottom-dwellars to a run of relative success over the past six or seven seasons.

But, his tenure came at the exact same time as Marist coach Brian Giorgis has been in place.

The two are good friends. They probably had a strong a relationship as any two MAAC coaches had over that period.

That didn't mean Giorgis was going to go easy on Bozzella. Over those 11 seasons Marist had a 29-0 record against Bozzella's Iona teams, including both regular-season and tournament games.

Now it's first-year Iona coach Billi Godsey's turn to try to snap that stretch of Marist dominance.

Her team is probably better suited to do that than at any time during the streak, thanks to Bozzella who brought in a group of talented players and left them all behind when he moved on. Iona returns the same starting five it had a year ago when it finished 20-13 and advanced to the WNIT.

But, last year's team had no success against Marist, losing by scores of 69-55 and 63-40 in regular-season contests and, then, by a 72-48 score in the conference tournament's championship game.

Marist, though, is slightly changed. Gone from last year's team is 6-2 forward Elizabeth Beynnon, a second-team all-MAAC selection a year ago; and, 6-1 forward Kristina Danella, the Red Foxes' top reserve and the Sixth Player of the Year award winner in the MAAC for 2012-13.

Marist was height-challenged early in the season and also played several games without returning point guard Casey Dulin, who was recovering from a foot injury.

But, Dulin is back at full strength and Marist, of late, has looked strong in the post.

Senior 6-0 forward Emma O'Connor has done most of the inside work thus far, averaging career-high numbers in points (13.3) and rebounds (6.0) per game.

Freshman Kat Fogarty, a rugged 6-2 post, has been making strides during the early season and 6-3 Vanderbilt transfer Tori Jarosz is as talented a post player as the MAAC has seen in many years.

Jarosz, though, still isn't at full strength, coming back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered this past spring. Still, she looked close to peak form in Siena's game at Marist on Tuesday, when she had 12 points in 13 minutes of time.

As usual, it will likely be a test of Iona's strong offensive capabilities vs. Marist's traditionally suffocating defense.

Marist, though, has allowed opponents to shoot 40.2 percent from the field this year, only 182nd best of 343 Division I teams nationally.

Iona's field-goal against percentage is better, at 38.3, 110th nationally.

But, Marist's has played the most-difficult schedule to date of any MAAC team. Its strength of schedule ranks 52nd nationally, while Iona's ranks 226th.

Individually, it's the latest in the immovable object/irresistable force matchup of Marist's Leanne Ockenden and Iona's Damika Martinez.

Ockenden is the conference's reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Martinez is well on her way to her third consecutive MAAC scoring title, and ranks fourth nationally in scoring (25.2 ppg.).

Ockenden and Marist got the better of things a year ago when Martinez managed only 17 points in each of the regular-season meetings with the majority of her points late in the game when things were well in hand for the Red Foxes. In the league championship game, Martinez only scored four points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Iona, though, has considerable other weapons, including sophomore forward Joy Adams, who averages 18.5 points and 13.9 rebounds. That rebound average is third-best nationally.

Iona also has the national leader in blocked shots in Sabrina Jeridore (4.1 per game), and a nearly mistake-free point guard in senior Haley D'Angelo, whose 3.93 assist-to-turnover ratio is third-best nationally.

It should be an exciting evening in Poughkeepsie for one of the most-attractive early season games on the women's schedule this season, one that could go a long way toward deciding the regular-season title winner.


Benster said...

I have been looking forward to this match up. Then again, I was looking forward to Fairfield-Marist on Saturday. That was more a mismatch than a match.

Steve Amedio said...

This should be a good one.