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Mid-Major Top 20 Preview: Iona Gaels

Breaking down Iona: A team trying to contend in the MAAC and rebuild at the same time.

Chris Chambers - Getty Images

Iona had a season for the ages in 2011-12. The Gaels had a high-flying offense and even when they stumbled during their 25-8 season, they looked good doing it. In fact, they looked so good that Iona received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after falling in the MAAC conference tournament. Of course, it all came crashing down in one of the greatest collapses in NCAA tournament history, as Iona lost a big lead and fell to BYU 78-72, but it was a heck of a run.

The problem is most of the key players have moved on. Scott Machado is now playing for the Houston Rockets in the NBA. The man in the front court Michael Glover is finding somewhere to get paid to play basketball and wing Kyle Smyth has moved on to Seton Hall thanks to the graduate transfer rules. Iona returns a few key players, most notably Lamont "Momo" Jones and Sean Armand, but Tim Cluess is basically rebuilding this team on the fly.

That's why you probably won't see the Gaels return to mid-major Top 20 this season. Oh sure, there's a ton of talent here, but there are also a ton of question marks.

First, can Jones become more of a true point guard now that Machado is gone? Last season the Arizona transfer was happy to play off the ball and pick his spots. He actually used fewer possessions than either Machado or Glover, yet somehow managed to get a reputation as a ball-hog. This season Jones will have the ball in his hands all the time. What he decides to do with it will make a big impact on an offense that ranked 17th in the nation last season according to adjusted offensive efficiency ($).

Secondly, how is Armand going to adjust to having defenses key on him? With Machado, Glover and Jones spacing the floor last season Armand feasted on defenses that were out of position and shot 46.2 percent from three. That includes making 10 at Madison Square Garden when the Gaels annihilated Siena. Now though he'll have a lot more attention on him. Can Armand rise up to the occasion? I think so.

Then there's the question of how fast the transfers and other newcomers will gel. Unfortunately, Iona tragically lost incoming recruit Michael Haynes when he was shot in Chicago. There's still a ton of new players coming in, including Toledo transfer Curtis Dennis who should provide some help defensively for the Gaels.

The other method for rebuilding that Cluess likes to use is junior college players. DeSean Anderson, DaShawn Gomez and Shawn Jackson, could all see playing time this season and all are JUCO recruits. Jackson - a 6-9 center - could be in the starting lineup from day one, or at least until another JUCO, David Laury, is eligible to play at the end of the first semester.

Non-conference play probably won't be quite as kind to Iona this season either. The Gaels play Rutgers at MSG and Georgia on the road and will meet either Connecticut or Wake Forest during the Paradise Jam. Throw in road trips to La Salle, Saint Joseph's and Saint Bonaventure and there's a lot of work to do. Competing for a MAAC title with a rebuilt roster would be a great accomplishment for Cluess.

Bottom Line: Expect a little bit of growing pains as Iona tries to incorporate a bunch of new faces into the rotation, but this team should be peaking in March. That's when you want to be playing your best basketball anyways.