Monday, July 2, 2012

Iona Men's Report: Still Strong, Despite Changes

Here's the last of the conference's team reports, and it's fortuitous that we saved Iona for the early days of summer since there is so much going on within the program that one almost needs a scorecard to keep up with everything.

So, up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 25-8 overall.

2011-12 RECAP: A 15-3 conference record and 25 victories overall are things to celebrate. Except, to a certain extent, Iona didn't quite reach the lofty levels many predicted, and your Hoopscribe is among the guilty that put what now seems unreal expectations on the Gaels for the past season. Many thought the 2011-12 edition would eventually rank among the MAAC's all-time teams, and it didn't quite get there. What Iona showed us this past year was that it was a very good team. On given nights, it was a spectacular team. But, it also had flaws that were overlooked during the preseason hype period, flaws that showed up enough for Iona to lose eight times, including setbacks to Siena (which finished sixth) and in a disappointing NCAA tournament first-round loss. Still, the Gaels accomplished plenty, starting with a regular-season title and enough along the way against non-conference opponents (victories over Maryland, St. Joe's, Denver, Richmond and Vermont) to deservedlyy earn an NCAA tournament at-large berth after it failed to claim the conference's automatic entry when it fell to Fairfield in the league tournament's semifinal round.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Any team that reached 25 victories had plenty go right. First was one of the best one-two combinations the MAAC has seen in many years. Senior point guard Scott Machado led the nation in assists (9.9 per game), while senior post man Mike Glover averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest. Momo Jones, a transfer guard from Arizona, was spectacular at times and finished averaging 15.7 points per game. Sophomore guard Sean Armand was among the best long-range snipers anywhere, hitting 10 tree-pointers in one game and shooting 46.2 percent from beyond the stripe on the season. As a team the Gaels ranked No. 1nationally in points per game (82.9), No. 3 in field-goal  percentage (50.2), No. 1 in assists (19.3) and No. 1 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54). Glover was No. 2 nationally in field-goal percentage (63.7). The Gaels nearly had another noteable non-league conquest, too, losing a one-point decision to Purdue in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament after Machado was lost to fouls late in the game. And, then, came the best 14 minutes of play by the Gaels all season wen it seemed to be running BYU off the court while grabbing a 25-point lead at the 6:12 mark of the first half in the NCAA tournament appearance. And, then ... well, see "what went wrong," below.

WHAT WENT WRONG: From the end, and moving backwards ... after falling behind by 25 in the NCAA game, BYU then seemed to find every flaw in Iona's game. The Cougars particularly took advantage of the Gaels' lack of height (Glover, at about 6-foot-6 1/2), which was unable to defend BYU's significant size advantage once it turned the final 26 minutes into a half-court game. Therein was Iona's other flaw ... it did its best work in transition. That worked masterfully for 14 minutes of that game until the game's style changed. And, then, BYU went to work. At the end, the height-challenged Gaels couldn't match up inside. Along the way, start with the conference tournament's semifinal-round loss to an undermanned Fairfield team playing without its best guard (Derek Needham). During the year Iona got knocked off by sixth-place Siena when the Saints also effectively forced Iona into a half-court contest. Mostly, it seemed clear that Iona needed a little more height to fulfill the preseason hype, but the Gaels still won 25 games overall with a 6-6 1/2 post-player its only truly effective paint performer. In the grand scheme, Iona achieved plenty this past season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Go ahead, try to figure this one out. Two of the program's all-time greats (Machado, Glover) are gone, as is sixth-man Kyle Smyth, a smooth-shooting 6-4 guard who finished school a year early and decided to take grad-level courses and play out his final season of eligibility at Seton Hall (under coach Kevin Willard, who recruited Smyth for Iona). Also gone is guard Ra'Shad James, who was part of the team's nine-man rotation this past season. Not many programs can survive the loss of four players of that caliber and expect to still be good. Yet, somehow, the Gaels will survive all of that and remain strong. Just how strong, though, depends on a huge influx of newcomers. Among those will be senior wing Curtis Dennis, a 6-5 transfer from Toledo who averaged 12.7 points per game there last season and is eligibile immediately. He, Jones and Armand will provide Iona arguably the best perimeter group in the league. Replacing Glover? That task will fall on newcomer David Laury, a 6-8, 240-pound forward from Garden State Junior College where he did not play after landing there for the second semester. He is said to be not only an inside presence, but to have good court vision. He becomes eligible after the first semester (mid-December), and has two-and-a-half years of eligibility. And, then, the backcourt gets a boost from another incoming JC, DeShaun Gomez, a 6-1 point guard from Antelope Valley JC in California. Another returnee is 6-7 senior-to-be forward Taaj Ridley (6.7, 4.0), who should continue to contribute in the coming season.

PREDICTION FOR 2012-13: The hype certainly won't be as strong in the preseason, but if Laury is as good as advertised and Ridley iimproves just a little, there is much talent in place. Still, the coming season will be a work in progress as players try to fit in and, then, fit in again when Laury becomes eligible in mid-December. He could become more-than-adequate replacements for Glover, but the program will be hard-pressed to replace Machado. Jones will likely move to the point, and if he does the style of play changes somewhat since he is more a scorer than a passer. If Gomez cam grab the starting position, though, maybe things won't change that drastically. Considering all the changes, it's hard to pick Iona to challenge the likely top two teams, Loyola and Manhattan. But, it won't be far behind, and it's not hard to envision the Gaels competing for league honors again.

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