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Iona asserts dominance in MAAC

Five-time defending MAAC Tournament champion Iona is alone atop the standings and is in good position to make the NCAA Tournament for an eighth time in the last 11 years

NCAA Basketball: ESPN Events Invitational-Kansas vs. Iona
Nelly Junior Joseph has eight double-doubles on the season. His Iona Gaels are looking to make a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

Iona won its first 11 conference games to cement itself as the top dog in the MAAC. The Gaels are 13-2 in the conference and 21-5 overall.

They have been the talk of the conference since their win over then-No. 10 Alabama on Thanksgiving. After dropping the next two at the ESPN Events Invitational to Belmont and then-No. 4 Kansas, they won 12 of their next 13 with the only loss coming by one at Saint Louis.

Iona has won a variety of ways, including a 26-point win over Rider and a one-point overtime win at Monmouth. The Gaels got tripped up on the Buffalo swing by dropping an 80-71 contest at Niagara. This was their first MAAC loss of the season. They followed it up with a 70-64 defeat at Siena. They got back on track with consecutive wins over rivals Monmouth and Saint Peter’s by nearly identical scores (70-62 and 70-61).

The Gaels have been dominant on both sides of the ball. They rank fifth in the country with 6.1 blocks per game. Offensively, they lead the conference at 75.8 point per game.

Nelly Junior Joseph has eight double-doubles on the season. He is averaging 12.8 points and 8.0 rebounds. Tyson Jolly leads the team with 14.8 points per game.

Last season, Rick Pitino’s squad withstood a 51-day COVID pause last season during conference play and won the conference tournament as the No. 9 seed. The Maroon & Gold were the unanimous preseason favorite this season.

Two-time reigning MAAC regular season champion Siena is in second place at 9-4 and 12-9 overall. After saying goodbye to the last two MAAC Players of the Year (Jalen Pickett and Manny Camper), the Saints have turned to Cal Poly transfer Colby Rogers, who leads the team at 14.6 points per game.

Siena has won six of its last seven since falling at Iona by 17 in late January. It avenged that defeat with a 70-64 win at home on ESPNU last Friday. The Saints overcame a 10-point second half deficit and then outscored the Gaels 25-7 to take the lead.

Just a half game behind the Saints are the Saint Peter’s Peacocks at 9-5 and 11-10 overall. Once conference play hit its stride, they won six of seven to begin 2022. However, they have lost three of their last five, including two defeats to Iona.

KC Ndefo, who has won defensive player of the year the last two seasons, leads the conference with 2.6 blocks per game. He is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds. Daryl Banks III leads the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game.

Monmouth sits in fourth place at 8-6 and 16-9 overall. After falling to 2-3 with the overtime loss to Iona, the Hawks won five of their next six games. That was one of two losses by one point in overtime (86-85 to Iona on Jan. 18 and 70-69 to Niagara on Jan. 30). They have three upcoming games against Siena and Saint Peter’s, so the opportunity is there for the Hawks to move up.

Three Hawks average in double figures. George Papas paces Monmouth with 15.4 points. Walker Miller is just behind him at 15.0. Shavar Reynolds stands at 13.9 points.

The rest of the conference is bunched up below .500. Quinnipiac sits in fifth at 7-8. Rider and Fairfield are both 6-8. Niagara and Marist stand at 6-9. Manhattan comes in 10th at 5-9, and Canisius is last at 4-11.