After representing the MAAC in each of the past three NCAA tournaments, and winning first-round games in two of them, it appears Siena’s run on the national stage is beginning to fade.
The opportunity is there for another team from the conference to step up and make a name for themselves come March. That team could very well be the Iona Gaels.
What makes Iona a potential noisemaker? Mike Glover. Just ask Jim Boeheim.
"Glover is about as good as anybody we'll play against,” Boeheim stated, after his Syracuse team defeated the Gaels by only six points back in December. “We didn't control Glover—that was our biggest problem. I'm not sure who can,” Boeheim added.
In that 83-77 loss to Syracuse, Glover, a 6’6”, 215 lb. forward, finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds. He made it clear that he can play with NCAA tournament teams, if the opportunity presents itself.
Glover is averaging over 21 points and 10 rebounds a game. Only one other player in college basketball is averaging 20 and 10: Eastern Michigan’s Brandon Bowdry. He is shooting over 66 percent from the field, and has posted double-digit rebound totals in nine of the Gaels' last 11 games.
Although a junior, this is Glover’s first season playing for Iona. It didn’t take him long to make a name for himself, scoring 28 in a loss to Cleveland State, who is currently 15-3. Two games later, Glover led the Gaels with 21 points and 17 boards in an 81-77 overtime win over Richmond, a team that is very likely to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament this year.
To follow that big win, Glover scored 39 against Canisius, then 30 against Niagara in leading Iona to wins in their first two MAAC games. The team is currently tied for second in the league at 4-1 in conference play, and is 10-6 overall. That record comes after the team began the season at 0-3. It’s pretty safe to say Glover’s emergence has made the Gaels a more confident team that believes it can compete against anyone on their schedule.
Iona should definitely not be viewed as a one-man show, however. This team has experience, led by point guard Scott Machado. A junior, Machado is currently second in the entire NCAA with nearly 8.5 assists per game, to go along with 14 points per game. He came one rebound short of a triple-double in their win over Hofstra in December, with 17 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists. Despite the scoring ability of Glover, it is Machado who commands the presence of floor leader for head coach Tim Cleuss.
Forward Alejo Rodriguez is Iona’s closest thing to a legitimate big man. The 6’8” redshirt senior does more of the dirty work inside against the smaller big men of the MAAC. Rodriguez came up big with 13 rebounds in the win over Richmond, and scored 15 in the Hofstra victory. He is certainly a key complement to Glover on both ends of the floor.
Rounding out Iona’s starting five are guards Jermel Jenkins and Kyle Smyth. Jenkins, a junior, is averaging over nine points a game, and was a key in the win over Richmond with 18 points. Smyth, a redshirt sophomore, is leading the team in three-point shooting, hitting 41 percent. His shooting ability was showcased against Albany, when he knocked down eight threes. He also put up 22 points in the loss to Syracuse.
The NCAA tourney success of Siena the past couple seasons was based on experience and confidence. Iona certainly has the experience, and has recently displayed the confidence to compete against quality teams.
With Mike Glover, this team may have the additional X-factor needed to become a household name to those outside of the greater New York City area, and maybe Syracuse.
Player and team statistics from ESPN. Quote from Associated Press