The No. 14 Iona Gaels enter the 2017 NCAA Tournament fresh off their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship. They claimed the MAAC trophy after their win against Siena, 87-86, over the weekend. Iona boasts a 22-12 (12-8 MAAC) record heading into the tournament.
Awaiting the Gaels is a hungry No. 3 Oregon (29-5) team that won the Pac-12 regular season title. The home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, Golden 1 Center will be the venue for UO’s first round action. Tip is set for 11:00 a.m. PT on Friday morning.
Nothing beats an upset in March for a college basketball audience. Unless of course, it was your team that tripped over Cinderella’s glass slipper.
Oregon is trying to move forward after the crushing loss of Chris Boucher. It will be easier said than done. His impact was defined by his imposing presence on the defensive end, alongside spreading opposing defenses thin with his offensive versatility.
“Unfortunately, I have not seen them play,” said Oregon head coach Dana Altman in reference to Iona. “Our assistants are scurrying right now to find out as much information as we can about them, get as much film on them as we can.”
The Ducks understand Iona is not a normal No. 14 seed.
March is predicated on guard play, and Oregon is rich with talented ones. However, so too is Iona. Let’s break them down:
The undersized Gaels are a guard-heavy unit, but they’re led by forward Jordan Washington. The 6-foot, 8-inch senior leader is averaging 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds a night. He is efficient from the floor, shooting 55 percent on the year.
Defensively the senior struggles with bigger forwards, just like Jordan Bell and Kavell Bigby-Williams. For being the biggest starter of their unit, Washington averaged just 0.4 blocks per game.
“Without that rim protector Chris Boucher, we gave up more points inside to Arizona than we have in a long time,” replied Atlman. “We’re going to change things up a bit defensively.”
Another senior leader is Jon Severe. The Brooklyn native is averaging 11.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 2.2 APG this season. He is a solid guard who makes his living on 3-point shooting (43 percent) and getting to the charity stripe (85 percent).
The son of former back-to-back NBA Champion for the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Sam Cassell Jr. is yet another Iona senior. The 6-foot, 4-inch guard logged heavy minutes this season, finishing just behind McGill at 30.3 MPG.
Cassell Jr. has a great basketball IQ and is a pesky player to guard. He amassed 10.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.1 APG and 0.9 SPG in 2016-17. Not to mention, he is one of three seniors in the Gael starting five.
A STAR GUARD
The player to watch for the Gaels is sophomore star Rickey McGill. Iona’s guard is on the floor more than anyone else, averaging 32.5 minutes per game. For the season, he recorded 10.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 5.2 APG and 1.8 SPG. He pushes the Gaels at a high rate.
“I know they get up and down. I know they shoot a lot of 3-pointers,” said Altman.
He does it all for Iona, including the point guard duties and the defensive alignments. At 6-feet 2-inches, he will most likely follow around Tyler Dorsey all morning. There is just something special about McGill, like Dillon Brooks, he has ice in his veins. This video below illustrates my point.
McGill shoots 45 percent from the field, 79 percent from the line and 34 percent from beyond the arc. And for handling the ball for the entirety of every game, he only turns it over twice a contest.
ROLE PLAYERS WITH RANGE
E.J. Crawford is an emerging freshman for the Gaels. The 6-foot, 6-inch guard has been invaluable to Iona this year. He is averaging 9.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.1 APG in 24.8 MPG. The scary part is the big guard is shooting the lights out from deep at 45 percent.
Deyshonee Much averaged 9.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.5 SPG in 24.6 MPG this season. The junior guard has not shot well from the field at 38 percent, but he is a 79 percent free throw shooter. He is a tough, defensive-minded 6-foot, 5-inch guard.
The lone shot-blocking threat for the Gales is senior Taylor Bessick. He blocks 1.2 shots per game, but averages just 14.5 minutes per contest.
A SHOOTERS TOUCH
For the season, Iona averages 80.5 points per game as a team. They led the MAAC with their impressive 3-point shooting at 40 percent in 2016-17. If you believe that’s an outlier, they led the conference in attempts (836) from downtown.
“They take a lot of them and they hit a lot of them,” Altman stated. “They will put our transition defense to test.”
Iona also hoisted up the most shots (2,091) overall in the MAAC, while recording the best shooting percentage (45 percent). That is no easy feat at any level.
As a team, they’re also very good from the charity stripe. Previous champions understand how important free throw shooting is in March. The guard-heavy Gaels shoot 45 percent from the field overall. Don’t overlook this team, Oregon will not.
ROLLERCOASTER REGULAR SEASON
After stringing together six straight wins in January, Iona has been inconsistent at best in 2016-17. Since that streak, they altered wins and losses to the MAAC Tournament, where they won three consecutive games and the title.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do for Friday, and that’s Iona,” said Altman.
It’s all about a good start for Oregon. If the Ducks come out with their hair on fire, they might be able to drown the Gaels early. However, if UO allows Iona to stick around heading into the second half, we could be in for a barnburner. Oregon can not allow easy buckets in the paint like they did with Arizona. It will be a long game if they do.
No. 3 Oregon (29-5) will meet No. 14 Iona (22-12) in the Midwest region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Tip is set for 11:00 a.m. PT on Friday morning from the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif. Nothing beyond this game is promised to anyone. The Ducks have their work cut out for them.