MAAC Preview: Iona's offense is explosive
During a conference call with the 10 MAAC men’s basketball coaches on Wednesday, it was suggested to Iona’s Tim Cluess that the Gaels are putting up scoring numbers that an NBA team would envy.
“I wish we had an extra eight minutes [per game]; that’d be fun,” Cluess said.
If shudders were audible, you would have heard nine of them over the line.
As the 2011-12 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference season opens tonight with two games, including Siena at Saint Peter’s at 7, Iona is leading the country in scoring average at 95.4 points per game.
The yin to Iona’s yang is defense-oriented Fairfield, and those two teams are the clear leading contenders a year after both were upset by Saint Peter’s in the MAAC tournament in Bridgeport, Conn.
“I think what you have this year is two terrific teams that are top-50 teams, Iona and Fairfield; two teams, Loyola and Rider, who are a little further along than the rest of us; and six who are going to say the same thing, they want to get better every day so that, in the end, they’re better,” Niagara veteran head coach Joe Mihalich said.
Niagara and Canisius will get the first look at Iona this weekend, and Mihalich and Canisius head coach Tom Parrotta had almost identical answers when asked about facing the Gaels’ offense.
“Oh, man, how much time do you have?” Mihalich said.
“How long do you guys have?” Parrotta said.
“They’re very, very high-powered and very, very high-octane. They certainly pose a lot of issues not only for us, but for a lot of teams out there, from what I’ve seen on tape.”
Iona (4-1) lost its season opener, 91-90, to Purdue, and hasn’t scored fewer than 89 points in a game.
The Gaels are led by point guard Scott Machado, who is averaging 12.2 assists against just 2.8 turnovers per game, including a ridiculous 15 with no turnovers in an 89-63 dismantling of Maryland.
“That was incredible,” Cluess said. “When I first saw it, I thought it was a misprint. Watching the film, he was tremendous. To be honest, I think he’s playing as well as any point guard in the country. He’s so unselfish.”
It almost seems unfair that Machado has also improved his three-point shooting and is 7-for-14 in five games.
He runs a show that also includes preseason player of the year Mike Glover and Arizona transfer Lamont “Momo” Jones.
Glover is averaging 21.2 points and 11.0 rebounds a game.
“Mike lost five, six pounds. We’ve been working on him with that, and his conditioning has gotten better,” Cluess said. “He put some size on last year so he’d be NBA-ready, but that was my mistake. He was too big, and lost some athleticism and jumping ability. We’re running him more now, and I think you’ve seen that the last couple of days. He has his explosiveness back.”
Fairfield has a new coach, after Ed Cooley left for Providence.
The Stags are led by former Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson, and have a terrific point guard of their own, Derek Needham, and, like Iona, an important transfer, Rakim Sanders from Boston College.
He’s averaging 18.1 points per game.
Houston transfer Desmond Wade has stepped into the starting lineup at guard and is averaging 27.7 minutes per game.
“We have a passion to stop people,” Johnson said. “Coach Cooley did a great job with that last year. I like that we get after it. We have a lot of pieces, so we’re versatile and can do a lot of things.”
Loyola and Rider are considered to be the two teams in the next tier behind Iona and Fairfield, although the Broncs (1-6) have gotten off to a rocky start through an ambitious early non-conference schedule.
“I am discouraged, we’re very discouraged,” Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “The record is ugly, but the schedule’s been pretty tough. A lot of people think we have a good team, and we owe it to the program to take some chances. Those were showcase opportunities for our league, and we didn’t deliver.
“Although you can say this is a fresh start because we’re all 0-0, no way does that wipe out what we did the first two weeks, so it’s still a process.”
While the rest of the conference begins to figure things out, the Gaels have taken off with breathtaking acceleration.
Some observers have questioned their willingness to play defense for a full game, but it may not matter.
“Not to offend any of the other programs in the league, because I love this league, but they’ve established themselves as the front-runner,” Johnson said. “I think we all agree on that.
“The rest of us are still working the kinks out, whereas Iona has hit the ground running. What we want to see is, when we get into the dog days of February and March, we hope to get it together. You never know. That’s the fun part.”