As we enter the home stretch in conference play everybody is going to be looking for this year's Florida Gulf Coast. That's why we've put together "Cinderella Watch" to profile all the mid-major teams you should know before heading into March.
Overall Record: 17-8
Conference Record: 14-2
Key Wins: Manhattan (82), Quinnipiac (90), at Canisius (95)
Worst Losses: at Nevada (148), at Northern Iowa (107), at Cleveland State (101)
Average RPI Win: 209
Average RPI Loss: 85
NCAA Tournament History: 10 Appearances (79, 80, 84, 85, 98, 00, 01, 06, 12, 13), 1-10
After starting the year 5-2 with losses to only Cleveland State and Kansas on the road the Iona Gaels became a bit of disappointment losing four straight games and dropping under .500. The last time the Gaels were under .500 was January 6 after their 86-74 loss at Quinnipiac. Since that loss Iona has gone 10-1, including a current eight game winning streak, with their only loss coming to the hands of Canisius 85-83.
Tim Cluess' Gaels are surging and they are surging at just the right time with four games left in MAAC play. Unfortunately though the Gaels will likely have to win the conference tournament in MAACachusetts to punch their ticket to their third straight NCAA Tournament. While the Gaels have been VERY impressive as of late they whiffed on opportunities against Kansas, Dayton, and Saint Bonaventure early this year. If Iona could have gotten past some of those teams then we might be talking about an at-large opportunity for the Gaels. Simply put, Iona does not have one of those signature wins that could catch the committees eye.
Despite Iona's dominant run in the conference, the conference tournament will not be a cake walk. Dangerous teams still loom in Manhattan, Quinnipiac, and Cansius, all of whom are currently sporting a 12-4 mark in the MAAC. Iona is certainly familiar with the situation after beating Canisius, Niagara, and Manhattan to win the MAAC Tournament a year ago.
Key Player: Sean Armand
The Gaels have a lot of talent and a lot scorers but it all starts with senior Sean Armand. The 6'5 guard is averaging 17.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Armand is Top 10 in the MAAC in points, minutes, assists, steals, and three point percentage. In 25 games this year he's only failed to get to double-figure scoring totals in three games.
What separates Armand from some of the Gaels other key contributors is the fact that he's been there before and he assume the role of "the guy" when Mo Mo Jones graduated. Armand has been there for the Gael's MAAC Tournament run and has NCAA Tournament experience. He posted 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists against Ohio State in last year's tournament and has 10 points against BYU two years ago. At the conclusion of the regular season, Armand will have appeared in over 130 for the Gaels.
Why They Will Succeed in March
Isn't Iona just due? After going to the tournament in back-to-back years maybe the Gael's are ready to breakthrough with their first NCAA Tournament win in nearly 25 years. It won't be easy for the Gaels as our own Chris Dobbertean has them currently slated as a 13 seed playing Kentucky. Other #4 seeds include Virginia, Iowa State, and Wisconsin, all tough match ups for Iona.
So what would make this year different? Well, we touched on that a lot of guys on this team have previous experience thanks to the two previous appearances which is certainly a plus. I think the first thing that jumps out at you when you look at Iona is their scoring. The Gaels have five players who are averaging over 10 points per game. Armand and A.J. English both are averaging 17.6 points per game and solidify a solid backcourt with Tre Bowman, who averages 13 points per night. All three of those guards also crash the boards and combine for over 11 rebounds on a nicely basis.
While Iona's guard play is impressive they can also do it on the inside and on the wing. 6'7 sophomore Isaiah Williams is averaging 10.6 points and over 4 rebounds per contest. The Gaels real advantage comes in 6'9 David Laury who has become quite the presence in the paint in the MAAC. On the year Laury is averaging 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds on a night to night basis.
Simply put, it's time for Tim Cluess. This is a well rounded and experience squad with a whole lot of talent. Don't be surprised if the Gaels are that trendy office pool pick for a first round upset next month.