Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 4/19/12

As we officially past the halfway point of the Non-BCS Watch List, we make our second stop in the MAAC.

Iona Gaels

Looking Back

Even though the Gaels lost in the MAAC Tournament Championship against Saint Peter’s, Coach Tim Cluess’ first season at the helm has to be considered a success thanks to 25 wins and a trip to the CIT Finals.  In all, Iona had a roller coaster season on their way to a 25-12 record.  They lost their first three games of the season before reeling off seven straight wins.  The Gaels proceeded to lose three of four, win five in a row, drop four straight, and then win the next nine games before losing in the conference championship.

Iona finished at number 65 in the Pomeroy Ratings thanks in large part to the nation’s 28th-ranked offense.  They ranked in the Top 10 in effective field goal percentage and took great care of the basketball.  Their 132nd-rated defense left a bit to be desired though.  The Gaels did a nice job on the defensive glass and boasted a solid steal percentage, but they struggled to limit opponents’ shooting on a regular basis.

While the Gaels have most of their roster back intact, there are a few notable losses.  Alejo Rodriguez finished second on the team in rebounding and first in blocked shots, while the transfer of 6-foot-10 Chris Pelcher leaves another hole in the frontcourt.  Rashon Dwight averaged 8.4 points and 2.3 assists, but his key contribution was his deadly long-range shooting.

This Year’s Gaels

The return of forward Michael Glover and guard Scott Machado give the Gaels a duo that few mid-majors can match.  Glover averaged a double-double with 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds last season, bursting onto the scene after joining Iona from junior college.  He hit 61.0 percent of his field goal attempts and took a staggering 426 shots from the field to go with 260 free throw attempts.  Glover was a beast on both the offensive and defensive glass and drew better than six fouls per 40 minutes.  He played a ton of minutes and posted a strong 115.1 offensive rating.  Glover is on the short list of potential MAAC Player of the Year candidates heading into his senior season.

Machado finished second on the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game and second in the nation in assists with 7.6 dimes per contest.  His gaudy 39.2 assist rate was good for 11th in the country, and he still found time to take over 400 shots.  Machado also led the team in steals and grabbed nearly four rebounds per game.  Any team with a point guard as experienced and talented as Machado has a great chance to make some noise.

Iona’s other key returnees are all in the backcourt.  Kyle Smyth was the third Gael to average in double figures with 10.1 points per game.  He also chipped in with over one steal per contest and canned 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.  More than 75 percent of his field goal attempts were from three-point range, and his shooting propelled him to the 55th-rated effective field goal percentage.  He also had one of the 10 lowest turnover rates in the country and posted a ridiculously high overall offensive rating.

Jermel Jenkins gives the team another accomplished outside shooter after hitting nearly 38 percent of his triples last year.  He averaged better than nine points and finished second on the team in assists.  Jenkins also posted solid defensive numbers thanks to his ability to disrupt opposing ballhandlers.  He’ll team with Machado and Smyth to form an impressive three-guard lineup.

Sean Armand also returns to give the team another prolific three-point shooter.  He hit 42.1 percent of his three-point attempts and took nearly 75 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.  He’ll continue to provide instant offense off the bench.

Randy Dezouvre and Trinity Fields are back as well.  Dezouvre will need to cut back on his 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes to become a regular contributor, while Fields posted decent shooting numbers in limited minutes.

With Glover the only sure thing in the frontcourt, newcomers will be asked to contribute immediately.  The most likely candidate is 6-foot-7 Nyandigisi “Digs” Moikubo who averaged 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds at Cochise College last season.  He provides another physical presence on the glass, and any scoring they get from him will be icing on the cake.

Fellow junior college product Taaj Ridley posted 15.8 points and 8.0 boards for Lawson State CC last year.  He gives the team additional length and athleticism on the wing and should be a key member of the rotation at forward.  Freshman Josh Gomez is the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-10, but he needs to add some weight in order to contribute as a true freshman.

The Gaels also add guard Ra’Shad James who showed terrific athleticism in practices last season and should factor into the backcourt rotation off the bench.  The wild card here is Arizona transfer Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who has applied for a hardship waiver to be eligible this year.  If he is able to suit up, he gives the Gaels yet another talented guard.

2011-12 Outlook

The MAAC is expected to be a two horse race between Iona and Fairfield, and I don’t think that changes even if Jones is ruled eligible.  The Gaels come into the season with plenty of positive momentum after a 25-win season and boast the top returning duo in the conference.

Iona will be tested early in the Puerto Rico Tipoff.  They face Purdue in the opening round before a date with Temple or Western Michigan in Round Two.  Aside from that tournament, the Gaels face road trips to face a talented Marshall squad as well as Richmond.

Glover, Machado, Smyth, and Jenkins give the team a strong nucleus, and there are a number of options in the backcourt.  The Gaels need at least one of the juco transfers to become a consistent contributor, or else Cluess may have to resort to a four-guard offense.  If they do get production from Moikubo and Ridley, they can absolutely challenge Fairfield for the title.

Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the latest edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.

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