In the week leading up to the Final Four, three other college basketball tournaments will be finishing up. Oregon and Creighton will play in the CBI championship; Wichita State, Washington State, Alabama and Colorado will be wrapping up the NIT at Madison Square Garden; finally, Santa Clara and Iona will play for a championship in the CIT.
Santa Clara had some struggles in non-conference play, with its best win being over Big Sky champion Northern Colorado. However, the Broncos played very well in conference play, with their highlight being an 85-71 win over Gonzaga on Jan. 20. They finished 8-6 in the WCC and lost to St. Mary's in the WCC semifinals.
In the CIT, Santa Clara opened up at home with a win over Northern Arizona. The Broncos then followed up a win over Air Force with a win at San Francisco, whom they lost to on two different occasions in the regular season. On Friday night, the Broncos dominated Southern Methodist on the road, winning 72-55.
On the other side, Iona started off the season shakily, losing its first three games. However, the Gaels came back strong to win seven straight games. In MAAC play, the Gaels finished in second place with a 13-5 record. They won their first two MAAC tournament games by an average of 27 points, but they fell to St. Peter's in the championship game by a score of 62-57.
During their CIT run, the Gaels played their first game at Valparaiso, which they handled fairly easily. They then played a close game at home against Buffalo, but Iona eventually pulled away for a 78-63 win. On Saturday, the Gaels took down East Tennessee State in Tennessee in a game of momentum swings.
Iona opened up the game on a 14-0 run, but ETSU came back to take a 41-35 halftime lead. It looked like Iona had things wrapped up with a late 10-point lead, but once again ETSU made a comeback. However, the Bucs' comeback fell short, and Iona won 83-80.
With the game set for Wednesday night, here is what each team will have to do in order to be crowned CIT champs.
Keys for Santa Clara
As a team, Santa Clara shoots 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. The Broncos have a pair of sharpshooters. Kevin Foster, the Broncos' leading scorer, shoots 37.2 percent from three-point range, while Evan Roquemore leads the team at 39.4 percent.
In a game that will most likely have an above-average amount of three-point shooting, the Broncos will most likely have to at least reach their average of seven three-pointers per game. As much as Iona likes to shoot the ball, the Gaels will also leave the perimeter open for opponent shooters.
Don't be afraid to send Iona to the foul line
Possibly Iona's weakest point is free-throw shooting. The Gaels make only 65.6 percent as a team, and some of their players have atrocious numbers from the charity stripe. Their two main big men, Michael Glover and Alejo Rodriguez, shoot 61.8 percent and 53.2 percent, respectively.
Obviously, the Broncos should not be looking to foul everything that moves. However, they should not necessarily shy away from physical play.
The only Iona players that are consistently strong from the line are Rashon Dwight (80 percent) and Jermel Jenkins (76.5 percent).
Take care of the ball, limit turnovers
Iona loves to turn over opponents and get out in transition. When Scott Machado gets the ball in the open floor, the Gaels start putting points on the board in a hurry.
Santa Clara is generally not great at taking care of the ball. The Broncos turn the ball over more than 14 times per game. Limiting their turnovers should be one of their main focal points.
Against Iona, teams average 15 turnovers per game, and Iona averages eight steals per game. If Santa Clara lets Iona turn them over, it could be a long and miserable night for the Broncos.
Keys for Iona
Just like three-point shooting is a strength of Santa Clara's, it is a strength of Iona's. The Gaels have hit as many as 13 three-pointers in a single game (at Rider on Jan. 14). This season, the Gaels ranked in the top 25 in the nation in three-point shooting, averaging eight three-pointers per game and making 37.5 percent of them.
The Gaels have the ability to survive without making three-pointers, but they become one of the better mid-major teams in the nation when they have their shooters going.
Stay out of foul trouble
At points this year, Iona has struggled with foul trouble. The Iona big men, especially Rodriguez, have had some problems picking up early fouls. Although Iona appears to have an advantage in this game, it will need to be able to keep its best players on the floor as much as possible.
The Junior Class
Although Iona does not lack a senior presence, the Gaels are led by juniors. Glover, Machado and Jenkins, are all part of that junior class. Glover and Machado are clearly the best players on the team, but Jenkins also has the ability to put up great performances when his shot is on the money.
When these three, especially Machado and Glover, are at their best, Iona can be very tough to beat.
Look for Iona to win this game. Overall, the Gaels are the more talented team of the two. However, Santa Clara is not too far behind. The Broncos have one of the more dynamic youngsters in the nation in Kevin Foster, who averages 20.3 PPG. His presence alone should be enough to keep Santa Clara in the game throughout.
However, Iona's talent and the fact that the Gaels get to play at home will ultimately rule out Santa Clara's chances of winning.
Iona 79, Santa Clara 70