Here's another in the series previewing the MAAC men's tournament.
No. 1 SEED IONA, quarterfinal round Saturday at noon against Thursday's winner of No. 8 Rider-No. 9 Monmouth game.
IONA RECORD: Iona is 17-3 in MAAC play, 20-9 overall.
WHAT IONA HAS: One word: firepower. The Gaels rank 4th nationally in scoring at 84 points per game. Iona pushes the ball up court, scores quickly and has the personnel to do so with four players among the top 185 nationally in made three-pointers per game. As a team Iona's 303 treys made is the highest total nationally. And, its 39.9 percent on bonus shots ranks 8th-best nationally. And, despite what looks like a frenetic, out-of-control style, Iona's ability to take care of the ball would indicate otherwise. The Gaels' assist-to-turnover ratio is a league-best 1.63, which is the fifth-best ratio nationally. Iona is the only league member with two players, guards Sean Armand and A.J. English, to be MAAC first-team all-star selections. Armand scores 17.8 ppg, and his 44 percent accuracy from beyond the bonus stripe is 10th-best nationally. He is one of the best pure shooters the MAAC has seen in many years. English (17.7 ppg.) is a sophomore who moved into the point guard spot seamlessly this season. Junior big man David Laury (14.0, 7.7) comes off the bench and is hitting on 56 percent of his shots, 31st-best nationally.
WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: Amazingly, there's not a preponderance of depth. Only six players average more than 9.8 minutes per contest. But that doesn't seem to impact Iona's fast-paced attack. Statistics would indicate Iona also struggles on the boards with its minus-4.9 rebound disadvantage. Only 34 teams nationally have a greater rebound deficiency. But, part of that is because Iona is such a good shootnig team that there are fewer offensive rebounds in its games. Still, the Gaels' three MAAC losses have come against Quinnipiac, Canisius and Manhattan, teams with the tallest league lineups. Iona doesn't start a player taller than 6-6. It did for a portion of the season, using 6-9 junior David Laury in the starting lineup. But coach Tim Cluess admits displeasure over Laury's lackluster play early preciptated his move to the bench. Laury has still gotten big minutes off the bench, but the removal from the starting lineup seems to have sparked his play somewhat. The other thing Iona doesn't have that it did a year ago is a chance to get an NCAA tournament at-large berth should it fail to capture the MAAC tournament's automatic berth. At No. 70 nationally in the RPI and likely to drop a few spots by virtue of player lower-ranked teams in this event, Iona would appear to be well below the at-large threshold.
COMMENT: Iona will be trying to advance to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, something no MAAC team has done since Fran McCaffery's last three seasons at Siena. And, the Gaels are certainly the favorite to get there with two fewer losses in conference play than second-place 15-5 Manhattan. Still, the regular-season league setbacks indicate the Gaels could be vulnerable to a bigger opponent.