Here's another in the series previewing the MAAC women's tournament ...
No. 1 SEED IONA, First game, Friday at noon in the quarterfinal round vs. Thursday's Niagara-Monmouth winner.
TEAM RECORD: Iona is 18-2 in MAAC play and 25-4 overall.
WHAT IONA HAS: The most-talented top six in the league, at least on the offensive end. The team's 74.2 points per game leads the league. Junior guard Damika Martinez leads the MAAC in scoring (24.5 ppg.), doing so for the third straight season. She's also seventh nationally in scoring average and third nationally in made three-pointers (3.43) per game. Joy Adams adds 16.6 points per game, guard Aleesha Powell chips in with 11.5 and likely Sixth Player of the Year Aaliyah Robinson averages 8.6 ppg. Point guard Haley D'Angelo averages 4.0 assists and her 2.83 assist-to-turnover ratio is 13th best nationally. Adams averages 13.9 rebounds per game, third-best nationally and is on pace to challenge the all-time career rebound total not only in the MAAC but nationally. And, senior center Sabrina Jeridore is a defensive presence in the middle and her 2.66 blocked shots per game is 22nd-best nationally.
WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: A defense that is as proficient as its offense. It allows 66.9 points per game, only 166th-best of 343 Division I teams nationally. The Gaels pound teams into submission on the offensive end but on nights when a superior defender is at its best ... witness Marist's season-closing victory over the Gaels on Sunday. Iona also doesn't have the experience of winning in the conference tournament, having never done so. But, this is clearly the team's best chance.
COMMENTS: An early season buzzer-beating victory, on Martinez' 17-foot jumper, over Marist should give the Gaels some psychological confidence that, finally, they can get past the Red Foxes should the teams both advance to the championship game. But, Marist was a double-digit winner in the rematch on Sunday and has the best defense in the league as well as the top individual defender in Leanne Ockenden, who has given Martinez problems over the past three years of head-to-head match ups. Still, Iona got to last year's championship game and had all six of its top players return for the best season in the program's history. It would be a surprise if both Iona and Marist fail to reach the championship game. And, if both do get there it should be the best pairing for the title in recent memory.