Friday, January 6, 2012
Mid-Major Alert: Gael Force Winds From Iona
By Jonathan Givony
Every year a Cinderella team emerges in March and takes America by storm.
Look at VCU, Butler, George Mason, Davidson, Northern Iowa, just to name a few. If you're looking for this season's Cinderella Westchester County might be a good place to start.
The Iona Gaels, of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, came into Madison Square Garden this week and lit the historic arena on fire like Mike D’Antoni could only dream his Knicks squad could, beating Siena, 95-59.
They scored 57 points in the first half alone, behind a balanced and explosive attack. Iona was powered by an offense ranked 12th nationally in efficiency. (They play at the 5th fastest tempo in the NCAA.) The highlights Tuesday came courtesy of sophomore Sean Armand sinking a MAAC record ten 3-pointers coming off the bench.
They check every box you’d expect from a potential March Madness Cinderella.
Experience: Eight of the nine players in their rotation (everyone besides Armand) are juniors or seniors.
3-point shooting: five of those rotation players are serious threats from behind the arc. The team makes 39 percent of its attempts.
Free throw shooting: 75 percent from the charity stripe, top-20 in the nation. How many NCAA tournament games have you seen decided at the free throw line?
Leadership: One of the best point guards in college basketball, Scott Machado, steers the ship.
Athleticism: Leading scorers Michael Glover and Lamont “Momo” Jones both started their college careers at BCS schools (Seton Hall and Arizona, respectively), but ended up at Iona due to extraneous circumstances. Machado is a NBA prospect and could play for virtually any team in America.
Likeability: The fast tempo they play at, the highly attractive ball-movement, Glover’s dunks and nickname (Optimus Prime), Machado’s Brazilian background and extraordinary court vision and creativity, Momo’s exhilarating and highly unpredictable shot-making ability … It’s not hard to see a neutral venue becoming a home game crowd for likeable underdogs like this. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery are already warming up their vocal cords.
Bonus: The Gaels bring a junior named Nyandigisi Moikobu off the bench.
Before you fill out your bracket this March, make sure you give Iona a good hard look. Of course, they need to get to the NCAA tournament first.
Jonathan Givony is the founder of DraftExpress.com, a website providing scouting information and analytics on the top basketball prospects in the world outside of the NBA. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports, USA Today and NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DraftExpress.