Scott Machado is developing a reputation as not only the best guard in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but one of the best guards in the east. The junior point guard scored 20 points against Manhattan Wednesday night in Iona's 102-65 win, and he is currently the Division I leader in assists with 7.5 per game.
Iona, now 17-10 on the season and 11-5 in the MAAC, is back on a roll with four straight wins over the past two weeks, including road wins at Manhattan and Marist and home victories against the Jaspers and Siena. Prior to that, the Gaels had lost four straight by a total of 11 points.
Iona is playing up tempo basketball and often applies full court pressure on its opponents. This strategy has been backed up by solid shooting, which was on display at Manhattan where the Gaels shot 67 percent from the field, including 16 of 27 three-point shots (59 percent).
Perhaps the difference factor for the Gaels is the confidence Machado projects as he brings the ball up the floor. He is averaging 13.9 points and is constantly looking to set up his teammates for inside cuts or outside jump shots. If not guarded closely at the top of the key, Machado will take the three-point shot or cut down the lane.
Machado's favorite targets for passes are backcourt partners Rashon Dwight (8.1 PPG), Kyle Smyth (10.1 PPG including 60 three-pointers) and Jermel Jenkins, who is coming off the bench the second half of the season and providing just under 10 points per game.
Junior transfer 6'7" Mike Glover has been making his presence felt under the boards, scoring an average of 18.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. As many of his shots are dunks or putback shots under the glass, he is averaging 61 percent from the field. Importantly, Glover has been moving with the ball to the basket, generating fouls and displaying considerable energy on defense.
Sean Armand has continued to provide instant offense for the Gaels, as he provided 13 first-half points for the Gaels Wednesday night, including three of four three-point shots made.
The Liberty Flames (19-9 overall, 13-3 Big South) come into the Sears Bracket Buster game Saturday off a 79-69 loss at VMI Tuesday night on the Keydets' Senior Day, giving up 14 three-point baskets.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU starting at 3 p.m. The two teams have played once before in New Rochelle on Dec. 20, 1997 when the Gaels won 84-68. The game will be played at the 8,085-seat Vives Center in Lynchburg, VA where a capacity crowd is expected.
Big South Player of the Week Evan Gordon is at point guard for Liberty. The 6'2" sophomore leads the Flames in scoring with 15.0 points per game on the year and has 48 steals. Guard Jess Sanders averages 11.0 points per game and 6'4" junior guard/forward John Brown averages a double-double on the season with 11.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. On top of those impressive stats, he has 50 steals on the season.
The Flames' inside game is led by 6'6" Junior David Minaya, who averages 11.0 points per game along with 6'10" freshman center Joel Vander Pol, who averages 4.1 points and has 21 blocks.
Flames head coach Dale Layer describes Iona as, "Really, really good. Extremely athletic, balanced, coming off four wins in a row, great inside play, great guard play, they are experienced."
Playing in front of a big road crowd against a 19-9 Liberty team could be considered a tough draw for the Gaels, but it is an opportunity for them to demonstrate to a national audience on ESPNU how good a team it has become playing the fast-tempo style under first-year coach Tim Cluess.
Ken Kraetzer covers West Point football and Iona College basketball for WVOX 1460 AM and WVOX.com in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American Legion Radio. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org