The Iona Gaels, winner of the MAAC Tournament, head into the NCAA tournament as one of the most intriguing teams in the field, possessing an elite offense and very poor defense.
The Gaels (20-13; 11-7 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) are led by one of the nation’s most prolific scoring duos. Senior guard Lamont Jones is the nation’s third-leading scorer, averaging 23 points per game, and junior guard Sean Armand averages an additional 16.6 point per game.
As a team, Iona, who is coached by local high school coaching legend Tim Cluess, ranks 20th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. Pomeroy’s stats also indicate that they play at one of the fastest pace in the country, with an adjusted tempo of 70.6 possessions per game, good for 17th in the nation.
For as strong as they are offensively, that is about as weak as the Gaels have been on the defensive end. Iona is 258th (out of 347 schools) in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Pomeroy.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects the Gaels as a 14-seed, The Bracket Matrix, a composite of numerous tournament projections, lists them as a 15.
A theme for Iona this season, aside from the great disparity between offensive and defensive efficiency, has been close losses, implying that their 20-13 overall record (and 11-7 conference record; fourth in the MAAC) does not tell the whole story.
The Gaels lost four games in overtime this season, including two in double overtime. Six of the team’s losses were by three points or less. In terms of big losses, Iona lost only one game by double digits and only one other game this season by more than five points.
Overall, Iona’s record in one-possession games or overtime games was 2-8. While some of this could be symptomatic of a lack of ability to close games, statistical analysis indicates that an overwhelmingly bad record in close games owes more to bad luck than anything else.
For Iona to pull off an upset in the tournament, they will likely need a big effort from Jones, the player of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Jones, who was the conference’s leading scorer, also led the conference in field goal percentage and points produced (points scored + assists) per game. In addition, Jones was second in the MAAC in player efficiency rating, third in effective field goal percentage, and sixth in assists per game.
Jones is also an 88.7% free throw shooter, and only two players in the country got to the charity stripe more frequently.
Jones is complimented by Armand, a proficient outside scorer who led the MAAC in both three-point field goals, and three-point shooting percentage. Armand also led the conference in effective field goal percentage, and was second in points produced per possession.
Jones and Armand attract the most attention, but they are also helped by sophomore forward David Laury, who is the team’s third leading scorer and leading rebounder, averaging over 10 total rebounds per game, with a total rebounding percentage of 19%.
Since Iona will probably only get a 14-seed, at best, the odds will be stacked against them when the tournament begins. That said, given the right matchup, Iona’s offense makes them a serious threat to pull off an upset.