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2014 NIT Preview: No. 6 Iona vs No. 3 Louisiana Tech

Both of these teams fell exactly one win shy of the Big Dance after rolling over nearly all of their conference both in the regular season and in the conference tournament. Both shoot the three with regularity and feature strong senior leadership. But the two are not as similar as you think.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

What to watch for: Iona

The Gaels have won 14 of their last 16 games, and haven't lost to anyone other than Manhattan in the last two months. They like to run when their aggressive, turnover-inducing defense gives them the opportunity.

Did you know they were the only team to finish in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency (they were 10th) to not make the NCAA Tournament? That, along with being a high-scoring (83.5 ppg), accurate shooting (.487 FG%), pass-happy (17.4 apg) offense makes them exceptionally dangerous, especially in a shootout.

Watch for the Gaels to try and get hot from long-range (possibly to their detriment if they do too much with lazy perimeter passing against an aggressive defense), or perhaps dump it down to get David Laury established on the low post - as either a precedent to that three-point success or as a Plan B if it isn't working.

What to watch for: Louisiana Tech

The Bulldogs score almost as often as Iona (81 ppg) but have to work a lot harder at it (92nd in adjusted efficiency) because they don't shoot nearly as well (.456 FG and .330 3PT). The Bulldogs have seven players who average at least 20 minutes per game, and all but one of them averages at least three three-point attempts per game, despite only two of those six shooting better than 32% from distance.

The loss to Tulsa was only the fourth in their last 23 games, so they've been equally hot, though who knows how much momentum matters with several days off prior to this game. What does matter is playing at home - the Bulldogs only have two home losses this season, one of which was against Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart.

In the last four losses, they were truly a "die by the three" team - Kenneth Smith and Kenyon McNeail (the two I mentioned above) shot a combined 42% on an average of 12 attempts per game, but their teammates still cranked up another 16 attempts of their own, despite only making them at a 22% clip. It also didn't help that those four opponents made a whopping 116 free throw attempts.

Player to watch for: Iona

Sean Armand is the team's leader, but I would argue that Isaiah WIlliams could be just as important in this game given both his activity level off the ball and his streaky outside shooting. Or I could say that A.J. English, as the team's co-leading scorer, is the player you should keep an eye on as he cuts through the defense and either gets a layup plus contact, or finds an open teammate on the perimeter, or dishes for an easy layup by Laury. Or Laury himself, with his developing post game, could be the key here. Look, this is a very versatile and talented - but also at times very streaky - team. Just watch everybody.

Player to watch for: Louisiana Tech

No name can go here other than Raheem Appelby. He was the team's leading scorer at 16.1 points per game when he went down with a bad ankle sprain against Florida Atlantic at the beginning of this year. He returned to game action near the end of the regular season but is still getting his legs back under him (literally and figuratively) with only 39 minutes played in the last six contests. The Bulldogs have posted essentially the same record without him (14-4) as with him (14-3) and came one win shy of the Big Dance, but his absence would matter much more against a team like Iona that can really push the pace and challenge Tech's depth.


I have a hard time picking against Iona in this one, but there's a chance that Appelby is back to his old self now that he's been back in the fold three weeks after returning, which changes everything. If the Gaels are clicking, getting their steals and hitting transition threes (a way to negate the Bulldogs' 16th-ranked three-point defense) they will be very hard to beat, especially for an offense as comparatively inefficient as Tech's. But much like Manhattan did twice, if the Bulldogs can generate enough turnovers to keep Iona's shooters from establishing any rhythm, they and their raucous home crowd could lead them to a victory at home. Iona 79, Louisiana Tech 76

Game Details

Who: No. 6 Iona and No. 3 Louisiania Tech

When: 7:30 ET on Wednesday, March 19

Where to watch: ESPN3