Iona Basketball: Making the Case Why the Gaels Should Make the NCAA Tournament
A week before Selection Sunday, one of the nation's best mid-majors was knocked out of their conference tournament earlier than expected.
The Iona Gaels (25-7, 15-3 in MAAC play) lost 85-75 in their conference semifinal to the Fairfield Stags, ending Iona's hopes of a MAAC title.
In the last several days, Iona have been put into consideration as a bubble team, with some claiming the Gaels are not an NCAA tournament team.
Yet it seems that Iona's incredible season has been looked over by many. Here is my case why Iona should be in the field of 68.
5-3 Record over Top 100 Schools
If Iona is to play in the NCAA tournament, they would have to play the best schools in the nation. Yet the Gaels have already proven that they can take on some of the best schools in the nation.
This season, Iona has defeated the following sides that are ranked inside of the top 100 schools in the nation, including the following: No. 46 Nevada, No. 56 St. Joseph's, No. 77 Loyola (Md.), No. 82 Long Island and No. 93 Denver.
The losses that the Gaels have against top 100 schools include a one-point loss to No. 43 Purdue and a loss to the same Loyola team that the Gaels previously defeated.
Incredibly, Iona's one win against top 50 schools is as much as two fellow bubble teams have combined against top 50 teams. Northwestern are 1-10 against top 50 schools, while NC State are 0-8 against top 50 schools.
Strength of Schedule Outside of the MAAC
Iona may have a strength of schedule of 145 according to CBS Sports, but that is due mainly to the Gaels weak in-conference schedule rank of 263.
In fact, the Gaels have an out-of-conference schedule rank of 41 and have recorded a startling out-of-conference ranking of 18, according to the same CBS Sports report.
Those non-conference Division I games saw Iona register a 9-3 record. This includes a strong showing in the Puerto Rico tournament, along with a great run in December that saw the Gaels register away wins in locations such as Denver and Richmond.
Iona's RPI has been incredible throughout this season despite their weak conference schedule. Currently, Iona have an RPI of 42, according to CBS Sports.
Using the formula that CBS has given us, Iona have a higher RPI than West Virginia, Northwestern, Oregon, Texas and Seton Hall (among others).
According to what the RPI tells us, Iona deserves to be in the tournament over these other bubble teams.
Iona's offense has been record-breaking throughout this season.
Scott Machado averaged a double-double that included being the first player in the NCAA to average over 10 assists per game since the 1990s.
Michael Glover was a dominating force down low throughout the season, helping to make Glover and Machado one of the top dynamic duos in college basketball.
This doesn't include former Arizona guard Momo Jones, who scored 43 points in a win over Canisius, or Sean Armand, who broke the record for three-pointers in a MAAC game with 10 field goals from beyond the arc against Siena.
Iona's offense ranked first in the NCAA in points per game, first in assists per game, and second in field goal percentage during this season. Iona would be one of the most entertaining sides in the tournament should they be allowed to join the field of 68.
Fellow MAAC Coaches Think Iona Should Be in the Tournament
Going into the MAAC tournament this year, Iona got an unusual amount of support in favor of an NCAA seed, regardless of their performance in the tournament.
Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos said “If Iona does not win our tournament, Iona deserves an at-large bid...I’ve been in this game a while because I was at Maryland for 13 years with Gary Williams. That Iona schedule they played, the way they play, the players they have, they should be in the NCAA Tournament regardless…They deserve to be in the Tournament no matter what happens. The rest of us are going to have to fight our way in.”
Manhattan coach Steve Masiello agreed with Patsos that Iona deserves an at-large bid.
“I think Iona deserves to be in for two reasons,” Masiello said. “One, I think what coach Cluess did with his schedule, he needs to be rewarded for. He went out and played a very, very competitive schedule. They went and had some very, very tough road games and they have a very, very talented roster. They have high-major players.
“You put those kids on a big stage against anyone in a tournament setting and they can beat anyone and they’re dangerous. I think if they don’t win it, they do deserve to be in it.”
BCS Schools Get More Bubble Recognition
It is customary for larger schools to get recognition, yet when you compare both Seton Hall and Iona together, it is surprising that Joe Lunardi did consider Seton Hall to be an NCAA tournament team (as of Wednesday) when compared to the Gaels.
Seton Hall are a decent team that struggled in the Big East. Meanwhile, Iona dominated their conference and were even stronger than the Pirates out of conference.
Yet it isn't just Seton Hall that are overrated when compared to Iona. Look at NC State, who are 0-8 against top 50 teams (Iona is 1-1) or Oral Roberts (who have losses against Western Illinois and UT-San Antonio). Both of those teams are in the bubble consideration and might make the tournament over Iona.
Schools like Texas and Northwestern have been above-average teams, but not so much so that they would make a splash in the NCAA tournament.
Iona has been more impressive than those two teams this year, yet it seems that most people have both BCS schools in the tournament and not Iona.
Iona Have Been More Impressive Than Drexel
Drexel have been the mid-major darling that most bracketologists have loved so far going into Selection Sunday.
Maybe it is because they are from the CAA like VCU, or maybe it is because they are from the Philadelphia area, a region that loves their college basketball.
Yet Drexel's resume has been lacking. Drexel does have one win over a top 50 side this year, but that win was to VCU, who just defeated Drexel in the CAA final.
Drexel do have three other wins against sides ranked inside of the top 100 spots in the NCAA, but have also lost twice more against top 100 sides.
One of those losses was a 13-point loss to the same St. Joe's team that lost at Iona a week earlier.
Drexel's resume has been helped tremendously with a strong 15-0 record against sides ranked beyond 200 in RPI. Yet Drexel have only been able to record a 12-6 record against sides that are ranked in the top 200 in RPI.
Drexel's RPI out of conference is 81 (compared to Iona's 19) and have a strength of schedule of 208, while Iona's schedule strength is 145.
Judging from their schedule, Drexel are much less likely to succeed in the NCAA tournament if they were to be in it than Iona. The Gaels have been tested with tougher competition and have responded well.
Drexel's biggest win outside of its conference was against Princeton by four points, while Iona's biggest win is against Nevada in a bracket-busters game.
Great Away Form
In order to be taken as a legitimate contender in the NCAA tournament, you have to have a strong road record. This season, Iona have been among the best schools in the nation on the road.
The Gaels were able to record 15 of their 25 wins this season away from the Hynes Athletic Center. Only two schools had more wins this year away from home: Harvard and Murray State.
The Gaels played in some of the toughest environments in college basketball to enhance their road record. This includes a tough stretch in early December where the Gaels played Denver, Marshall, Richmond, Vermont and William and Mary consecutively on the road.
Iona won four of those games, highlighted by a buzzer-beater at Denver, which is one of only two losses that the Pioneers suffered at home during the season.
Southern Mississippi and St. Mary's (both of which are probably going to be NCAA tournament teams) had already lost in Denver before the Gaels won.
They Are This Year's VCU
Last year, Virginia Commonwealth University were not considered to be an NCAA tournament team by anyone. They fell out of their conference tournament early and did not appear like a side that could do any damage in the tournament.
Of course, VCU shocked the world by getting into the tournament, and continued their fantastic run all the way into the Final Four.
This year, Iona find themselves with very little respect from many of the hoops experts and also fell out of their tournament early.
The Gaels do have a chip on their shoulder from not winning their tournament and the lack of respect that the media has given them. Iona also has a strong offense and has experience in tournaments like last year's CIT tournament.
Iona have multiple stars and will be able to perform with anyone on multiple stages, just like VCU did last year.
If someone wants to see a repeat of VCU from last year, this year's Iona Gaels will be a perfect replacement.
Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Jordan
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