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Tag:Iona
Posted on: March 4, 2012 5:23 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 5:32 pm
 

A shame, but once again, Iona fails in big moment

Tim Cluess put together a really nice team this year, but there were too many missed opportunities. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander


It's one thing to have a top-seeded team fall short of earning the auto bid. It's another when that team is not only the No. 1 seed in its conference, but also has three future pros (NBA or otherwise) and could've been a real nuisance in the bracket that matters most.

For the second straight year, Iona was the team in the MAAC with the most talent and the highest ceiling. For the second straight year, it got chopped from the league tourney, and so it will play in the NIT, not the NCAAs. We, the college basketball-viewing audience, will be cheated because of it, but that's just the breaks. This is a really fun team to watch, one with the ability to knock off a lot of teams in college basketball. But that's all just talk now. Potential never finding its fruition.

Tim Cluess told reporters after Iona's 85-75 loss to Fairfield Sunday in the MAAC semis that he believes his team is worthy of an at-large bid. Said his team's better than the No. 8 or No. 9 team from the Big East, knowing that it's probable those schools -- Seton Hall, UConn, West Virginia -- are much more likely to get a bid.

But the reason they're much more likely to get a bid is because they've accomplished more. Cluess knows that, too, he's just saying what a coach needs to say after his team bows out too early. And here's my angle on it: Iona did have chances. It lost to Purdue in November and on the road at Marshall in December. If it won both of those games, just those two, I think the Gaels actually get into the field even with this loss. Instead, they fell, and so their best wins are home against Nevada, on the road at decent Denver and over St. Joe's in New Rochelle, N.Y. It's not an anemic resume but it's so below what others have done.

A lot of good (or should I say worthy?) teams lose less games and don't have the chances Iona had this year. Failing to reach the MAAC title game with an overall underwhelming slate doesn't do good for the cause. It's a shame. Scott Machado is possibly going to be a first-round NBA draft pick. He's one of the five best point guards in the game. Iona's one of the best passing teams and most potent offenses in D-I. They would've been a great watch in a 4 vs. 13 game ,and against a team like Georgetown, yeah, they'd have a chance. But we won't get that. We won't get to see Mike Glover match up against a frontcourt that's probably incapable of defending his devastating drop step.

MoMo Jones, the Arizona transfer with the quick trigger, he won't get his big chance at redemption after playing in the Elite Eight last season. Had the team played against Fairfield on Sunday like it had for most of the MAAC season -- as a unit -- then they'd get their chance Monday night on ESPN. But for as well as Fairfield -- a team that knows about not playing up to its skill level -- the loss is on Iona. It was out of sync, taking bad shots and incapable of stopping Fairfield, which saw to-be pro Rakim Sanders score a career-best 27.

It's funny how I was taken to task by Parrish on the podcast last Wednesday for picking Iona over Memphis in the Non-BCS Power Pyramid. The Gaels, I thought, were the more reliable, more dangerous team. But they were a danger only to themselves again. Machado and Glover are seniors, so they're gone. Cluess will build up this program with his guys. Perhaps next year, or the year after, he'll have the cast he needs to get the program to a ninth NCAA tournament. New players can be as vital as the talent they bring with them.

The reason why some small schools are able to regroup and make runs is, you get new blood in, guys who don't tighten up in the postseason because they don't have memories of falling short. Right now, that's the reputation forming around this program.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 6, 2012 10:50 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 10:51 am
 

Iona relishing being the MAAC's hunted

By Jeff Borzello

Momo Jones and Iona are beginning to enjoy getting everyone's best shot in the MAAC. (US Presswire)

BRONX, N.Y. – Manhattan had Saturday night’s Iona game circled on its calendar. It was on ESPN3, the game was sold out, and they were turning people away at the door.

The Jaspers came at Iona with everything they had, but came up short, losing 85-73 in a battle for first-place in the MAAC.

The intensity and pressure was nothing new for the Gaels.

Iona also received Siena’s best shot. And Fairfield’s best shot. And Canisius’ best shot. And – well, you get the point. The Gaels are clearly the hunted in the MAAC this year.

“We love it. That’s the attention we want,” guard Scott Machado said. “We go into every game like we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”

At times this year, Iona hasn’t handled the limelight very well. It lost to Hofstra in late December; blew a 17-point lead in the first meeting against Manhattan; and also lost two weeks ago to Siena after leading by 18 at one point.

The similarity of both Manhattan games wasn’t lost on Iona head coach Tim Cluess, who realized that the Gaels had jumped out to a big second half lead in each meeting. However, Iona is not the same team it was a month ago.

“Same score, same time – did we grow up or didn’t we? And we did,” Cluess said.

Iona has had a bad habit of blowing big leads, and then resting on its laurels and allowing lesser teams to comeback in the second half. It cost them twice this season, but the Gaels are realizing all eyes are on them right now.

“We can’t take a night off,” Cluess said. “Everyone’s shooting at us. There’s a lot of energy, and so teams are going to play well against us.”

Manhattan did play well against Iona for a half, getting 19 points from George Beamon in the first 20 minutes. In the second stanza, though, the Iona defense – a unit that has much-maligned this season – clamped down on Beamon, and the Jaspers’ offense struggled mightily.

There would be no miracle comeback and Emmy Andujar buzzer-beater this time around.

“We finished the last several games off better,” Cluess said. “Teams are good, so teams are going to have runs. Our job is to answer those runs. And play defense if the offense struggles.”

Iona is starting to play the role of villain pretty well. With Momo Jones heating up offensively – he had 43 points in a game last week – and Sean Armand being the team’s X-factor, it’s no longer just the Machado and Mike Glover show. That should help them in the conference tournament, where the Gaels fell short in the conference title game against St. Peter’s.

They’re also ready for whatever opposing teams – and crowds – throw at them. On Saturday night, Draddy Gymnasium was hot, loud and hostile.

And Iona loved it.

“I think it worked to our advantage,” Jones said. “We fed off of their crowd’s energy more than they did.”

A month ago, you couldn’t have said that about the Gaels. But they’re tougher now. They like having a target on their backs.

They’ve grown up. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 13, 2012 12:05 am
Edited on: January 13, 2012 1:06 am
 

Night Court: Home losses are the common theme

By Jeff Borzello

Here’s everything you need to know about Thursday’s slate of college basketball games …

Game of the day: Looks like the MAAC is not going to be a cakewalk for Iona this season. The Gaels welcomed Manhattan into town and dominated for the first 32 minutes or so, leading by 17 with 7:58 remaining. Then the Jaspers turned on a switch and outscored Iona by 20 in the final eight minutes – capped by Emmy Andjuar’s banked-in 3 at the buzzer to give Manhattan a 75-72 victory. Go check out the video above.

Win to brag about: Wisconsin needed a win badly against Purdue – and the Badgers held off the Boilermakers for a 67-62 win. It was Purdue’s first home loss since Feb. 28, 2010. Wisconsin jumped out to a 22-4 lead on the strength of five 3-pointers, but Purdue slowly came back in the game, spurred by a nice offensive game from guard Terone Johnson. For a team that has struggled to provide secondary options to Jordan Taylor, getting five guys in double-figures was key for Wisconsin.

Win to brag about, Vol. 2: Saint Mary's continues to send a message to the rest of the WCC. After dominating BYU two weeks ago, the Gaels handled Gonzaga on Thursday night, 83-62. Potential league player of the year Rob Jones didn't score until there was 1:39 left in the game, although he grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out eight assists. Matthew Dellavedova was an absolute stud, hit several clutch 3-pointers and finishing with 26 points. The hero might have been freshman Brad Waldow, who came out of nowhere to rack up 17 points and nine rebounds. Will Gonzaga and BYU protect their respective homecourts the way Saint Mary's has done in Moraga? 

Loss to hide from: Minnesota isn’t a bad team by any stretch, but the Golden Gophers were 0-4 in the Big Ten going into Thursday night. On the other hand, Indiana had already beaten Kentucky and Ohio State at home so far this season. So what happened? Minnesota grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and forced 15 turnovers en route to a 77-74 victory. Indiana couldn’t get its shooting going, knocking down just 4-of-22 from 3-point range.

Player who deserves improper benefits: In a battle for first place in the Big South, UNC-Asheville overcame a 17-point deficit to beat Campbell. The Bulldogs improved to 6-0 in the conference behind a tremendous all-around performance from guard Matt Dickey. The senior had 19 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and two steals for UNCA.

Player(s) who does not deserve improper benefits: George Mason’s Ryan Pearson came into Thursday averaging 18.2 points per game. Against Drexel, Pearson shot just 1-for-9 from the field and finished with two points as George Mason suffered its first conference loss of the season. Pearson did grab 11 rebounds, but the Patriots needed his offense – and didn’t get it. 

Numbers don’t lie:

  • 6: Since Wes Miller took over as interim head coach for UNC-Greensboro, he had suffered six straight losses. He picked up his first win on Thursday at Charleston.
  • 47: That’s the combined number of free throws Robert Morris and Quinnipaic made on Thursday. Quinnipiac won, 78-76.
  • 6-for-26: That’s what Stanford and Utah shot from the free-throw line -- the worst combined percentage in a decade.
  • 16: That’s the number of assists Scott Machado dished out for Iona in its last-second loss to Manhattan.

Three other notable results:

  1. Virginia went 0-for-11 from 3-point range in the second half against Duke, but still had a chance to send the game into overtime. But Mike Scott and Jontel Evans both missed, giving Duke a 61-58 win. Despite the loss, Virginia is for real.
  2. Dee Bost stole the ball from Trae Golden in the final seconds and went the other way for a dunk to clinch Mississippi State’s 62-58 win over Tennessee.
  3. Murray State stayed undefeated by beating Jacksonville State, 66-55. 

Notes:

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: January 9, 2012 10:20 am
 

Podcast: The MWC can no longer be undervalued

By Matt Norlander

We can't turn our heads anymore. The Pac-12 is miserably bad, perhaps continuing in the worst season in its existence -- that dates back to when it was the Pac-8 and the Pac-10. What's the reason for this? Is it doomed to become a one-bid league? The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg says no, even if you want to upchuck your dinner just following this league.

Today's 'cast isn't all negative, though. Jeff and I also give our top five non-BCS teams, waxing on the Mountain West in the process. The MWC could be the fourth-best league in the nation. Let's start talking about that over peanut butter and crackers.

On to the podcast:
  • From the beginning: Banter before the basketball.
  • 1:15: Addressing, examining and a lack of mockery -- but heavy pity -- for the Pac-12. What the biggest story lines with the league right now?
  • 4:26: How'd the Pac-12 get to this point? How'd a Big Six conference become so laughable?
  • 9:27: How many bids is this league setting up to get? Calling it a one-bid conference is easy, and understandable, but by March, two teams getting in seems likely.
  • 12:30: Moving on to the Mountain West -- the fourth-best conference in the country. Believe it, fools!
  • 16:04: Eisenberg's top five non-BCS teams. Xavier makes it. Fo' real.
  • 22:06: We get to this point of the year, there's always a team or two who's undervalued despite playing well. We give our picks.
  • 24:55: Louisville, Missouri, Florida and UConn all fell Saturday. Top 15 teams. Which one will wind up playing the worst the rest of the way?

Continued thanks from me to you for keep coming back and listening. Please: spread the word. Hoops season is ramping up, and I'd love more hate mail. Spread this page and the iTunes subscription link to anyone you'd think would like this sort of think. We post three times per week, with the Wednesday show being a low-rent sitcom wannabe of a half hour, thanks to CBSSports.com national writers Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman Skyping in their opinions. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.


Get CBSSports.com College Basketball updates on Facebook   

Posted on: December 5, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: December 5, 2011 12:02 pm
 

Non-BCS Power Pyramid, Week 3

By Matt Norlander

Every Monday, we’re going to be giving you readers and fans and coaches more and more reason to hate us. How can we do this outside of just being our natural, irritating selves? By ranking as many teams in as many ways as possible, of course. And we won’t reserve our judgment for your scorn in big-boy country. No, we’d like to alienate ourselves to the fan bases around the nation, mid-major schools included.

This feature serves as a complement to the weekly Top 25 and One, which you can read right here.

No more ado — here’s how we see it, the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball as of Monday, Dec. 5, at 11 a.m ET.

Top Tier

1. Xavier (6-0). A Sentence: There’s a considerable difference between X and everyone else, when you take into account the Muskies’ wins over Vandy on the road and the comeback W against Purdue last week. A Statistic: The only major flaw with Chris Mack’s team right now is the free-throw shooting. X is under 60 percent as a team. Will get them eventually. The Schedule: at Butler Wednesday; vs. Cincinnati Saturday.

2. Iona (6-1). A Sentence: Saw this team in person a week ago, and no joke, they look incredibly dangerous for pretty much any team outside of the top five right now. A Statistic: The Gaels are scoring 1.14 points per possession, which is definitely good, but a little less than I expected from the highest-scoring and highest assisting team in the country. The Schedule: at Denver Wednesday; at Marshall Sunday.

3. Harvard (8-0). A Sentence: I’d love for Harvard to justify me putting them this high with a win Thursday, but they merely need to keep it compelling. A Statistic: The Crimson have been helped by a “defensive” stat they have such little control over: free throw defense. Opponents are shooting an NCAA-worst 54 percent from the line against them. The Schedule: at Connecticut Thursday; at Boston University Saturday.

Ron Swanson Approves

4. UNLV (8-1): A Sentence: Beating North Carolina, then losing on the road at a Power Pyramid Wichita State team equates to a UNLV team smelling the Pyramid’s ceiling. A Statistic: 52.2 was the percentage from 3-point range the Shockers put up against UNLV over the weekend. It was the first time this season Vegas has had a team shoot better than 50 percent against them from downtown. The Schedule: vs. NAIA Cal State San Marcos Wednesday; at Wisconsin Saturday.

5. Creighton (7-0). A Sentence: Greg McDermott’s team is playing so well because his son is on his way to an Adam Morrison-like year in terms of offense. A Statistic: Remarkably, the Jay’s effective field goal percentage has rise, up to a still-tops-in-the-U.S. 60.9 clip. The Schedule: at St. Joseph’s Saturday.


6. Gonzaga (5-1). A Sentence: I’m not quite sure what Gonzaga will become, but I do know they’ve got plenty of chances, plenty of talent, and believe they’d beat everyone below them here on a neutral floor more times than not (as of today). A Statistic: The game, and loss, to Illinois was the first road game of Gonzaga’s season. Last year, the team was 7-5 on the road, and didn’t get above .500 in that category until the end of the year. More road woes coming this year?. The Schedule: vs. Michigan State Saturday.

7. Saint Louis (7-1). A Sentence: Have been impressed with Saint Louis so far, but for reasons I won’t expound upon here and now, I still remain wary. A Statistic: Saint Louis is in the shorter half of D-I teams, and they’re rebounding like it. The 24.2 offensive rebounding percentage will eventually need to come up, unless the team’s able to keep the eFG% above 58 (which it is now). The Schedule: vs. Vermont Wednesday; vs. D-II Illinois Springfield Saturday.

8. San Diego State (8-2). A Sentence: Interesting about this team right now: the numbers don’t love it, but boy have I and so many others been impressed. A Statistic: Despite the strong start, Aztecs are 58 in KenPom. Where’s the love? BYU is 21! The Schedule: at San Diego Wednesday.

9. Memphis (4-2). A Sentence: Tigers had a couple of patsies last weeks, so they fall slightly be default. A Statistic: Just take notice of the team above and the team right here. One’s played 10 games, the other six. There is a lot of room to flex between groups right now; we’ll have a better sense of the Pyramid’s hierarchy in about three weeks. The Schedule: at Miami Tuesday; vs. Murray State Sunday.

10. Belmont (5-2). A Sentence: I’ll take this moment this week to say: Unless Belmont starts ripping up opponents by 20-plus on the regular, they’re just going to be a really good, nondescript team off most non-Pyramid radars until late February. A Statistic: Last year, Belmont was one of the best teams in the country at turning you over. This year, it’s the opposite. The 14.1 offensive turnover rate is third-best nationally. The Schedulevs. Tennessee State Tuesday.

Base Blocks

11. Northern Iowa (7-1). A Sentence: The Valley is going to be a multi-bid league this year, and UNI will be making the NCAAs — yes, I’m saying that on Dec. 5. A Statistic: The Panthers’ D, giving up .93 points per possession, hasn’t been given enough love so far. Let’s see if this team can become as good on the D end as the 2009-10 group. The Schedule: vs. Iowa Tuesday; vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee Saturday.

12. Temple (4-2). A Sentence: Pretty sure Owls are in a tough spot this week; they’ll most definitely need to go 2-0 to remain inside the Pyramid’s walls on Dec. 12. A Statistic: Owls senior Michael Eric is currently taking more of your misses than anyone else. He possess a 34.6 success rate at grabbing defensive boards. The Schedule: at Toledo Wednesday; vs. Villanova Saturday.

13. New Mexico (6-2). A Sentence: Sophomore guard Kendall Williams has turned into a better player than I’d expected and is the reason UNM keeps a logo on this graphic. A Statistic: 23-4. That was the opening run to start Saturday’s game against Missouri State, which was in the Power Pyramid last Monday. The Schedule: at USC Saturday.

14. Wichita State (5-2). A Sentence: Valley swaps one team for another, as the Shockers replace Missouri State this week, keeping three teams in the rankings. A Statistic: In the out-of-nowhere performance to date this season, senior Joe Ragland scored 31 in the 89-70 WSU W over UNLV, thanks to eight 3s. Ragland boosted his PPG average to 11.9. The Schedule: at Tulsa Wednesday; vs. Utah State Saturday.

15. Murray State (9-0). A Sentence: Small surprise of the season: Billy Kennedy’s former team has started out terrifically without him. A Statistic: Three of the nine wins have been against foes outside of D-I, so that’s a big caveat. Wins over So. Miss and Dayton were convincing, though, so I’ve got the heart to put them in, just ahead of Tulane and College of Charleston. The Schedule: at Memphis Sunday.

Roaming outside the Pyramid:

♦  Out this week: Missouri State, Marshall. In: Murray State, Wichita State.
♦  Marshall gets its chance to get back into the Pyramid if it beats Syracuse this week, and I think Murray State’s visit could be short-lived due to the Memphis matchup forthcoming.
♦  I know you’re unbeaten, Tulane. If you get through next Sunday with wins over Wofford and Jacksonville State — even though those aren’t great wins — I’ll get you in with an 11-0 D-I record.
♦ Brigham Young is the only highly ranked KenPom team not to make the Pyramid. Let’s see what happens Dec. 17 against Baylor and then we’ll assess.
♦ I considered ranking Northwestern until it got mollywhopped by Baylor. (I keed!)

Photo: US PRESSWIRE
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:23 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:26 am
 

Scott Machado: the best point guard in the game?



By Matt Norlander


NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — There is no player as hot on NBA scouts’ radar right now as Iona senior point guard Scott Machado. After barely registering as a prospect worth tracking in his first three seasons with the Gaels, the buzz about Machado has only grown with each game this season.

That trend will continue after his 10-assist performance Monday night in a 100-84 routing of Long Island. The Gaels improved to 4-1, looking like a top-25 team in the process, even if Long Island, which went to the NCAA tournament last year, is most definitely not of that caliber right now.

“That’s a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament right now,” Long Island coach Jim Ferry said. “They should’ve beat Purdue. You have try to contain Machado. MoMo Jones is the fourth option, and he was the second-leading scorer at Arizona last year, and he’s the fourth guy you’re worried about guarding? This might be the best team in this area [greater New York City] in the past 10 years. They have three Big East-level players playing in the MAAC.”

Machado (who I ranked No. 26 at point guard in October -- whoops!) also put up 14 points and had five turnovers, but a few of those came late, in garbage time. (If it was going at full speed, Iona could have put up 115 on LIU without a fight, and Machado would’ve had 13 or 14 assists if it weren’t for some bunny layups that didn’t fall.) Machado leads the nation in assists per game (12.2), as does his team (22.6). The Gaels are also the nation’s most potent offense through the month of November, scoring and scorching at a 95.4-points-per-game clip. Machado’s the primary point guard, but Jones had a career-high six assists Monday night, and Kyle Smyth, a senior who plays the 3, also dished out six dimes.

Iona is extremely good and undoubtedly underrated right now. This team’s only loss came to Purdue, in the first game of the year, after Robbie Hummel hit a clinching 3-point shot to bail out the Boilers. While a lot of factors have serendipitously come into play, Machado’s leap to the elite class of college point guard is the biggest reason why Iona is the best team within a 130-mile radius of its campus.

“He’s a completely different player, not even close,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said. “It’s like having a sophomore to a senior. Like, he didn’t make one year’s worth improvement, he made two. ... I think going to Brazil helped him see other guys’ work ethics and trying to become professionals. Now, it’s like a night-and-day player.”

The biggest reason for this Hulk-like change into an elite point guard was Machado’s time with the Under-21 Brazilian national team over the summer. The smaller reason: Cluess asked Machado to shed off 10 to 12 pounds. He did that. He’s also now a gym rat, which was never the case with him prior to this fall.

“He deserves this,” Mike Glover (who scored 28 Monday night) said of his teammate. “Him going to Brazil was the best thing to ever happen to Scott. But at the same time, I’m pretty sure he’s not satisfied with where he’s at right now.”

Where he’s at is sharing sentences with North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, who’s considered by many to be the best 1 in the game along with Xavier's Tu Holloway and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. Now people believe Machado’s a top-five point guard in college basketball, and his coach thinks he’s No. 2 behind Marshall. As does Jay Bilas, who said he's the second-best passer in the country. Could the best pure point guard in college basketball really be playing in the MAAC?

“The guy he’s fighting against plays for North Carolina,” Cluess said. “Think about if Scott were throwing to those guys. He’d average 20 assists per game. It’s no shot on our team, but it’s a different level.”

It wasn’t expected to go this way. Jones coming in meant Machado would acquiesce some time at the 1 to allow Iona to split point guard duty, making them tougher to scout in the process. Turns out they’re tougher to play against no matter what, with all the running and Machado becoming basically indefensible so far this season. His mindset is this:

“I’ve noticed there’s a lot of point guards in the league that like to score the ball and not a lot that to distribute the ball and get their teams involved before they get themselves involved,” he said. “That’s so much easier to play the game when you get your teammates involved. When you’re getting your teammates dunks and layups, it makes it makes it easier for you.”

Machado’s at the 1 about 80 percent of the time for the Gaels. Jones is bringing the ball up the floor — when it’s not a fast break — the remaining 20 percent. Machado credits how Cluess has quickly works this team into a condition that's already paying big dividends. It's not going to stop, either, which could be this team's mantra. Iona’s practices are now essentially three-hour track meets.

“A 40-minute game, it’s like a joke to us,” Glover said. “When competition comes, 40 minutes is nothing, and we wore them out tonight.”

They will try to gas every team they play this year. If they can do that and remain efficient with passing the ball and not turning it over (which they haven't been), this will unquestionably be one of the best mid-major teams out there.

“Honestly, our goal was 20 assists per game,” Cluess said. “We’ve done that in every game so far, and I can’t tell you I expect that from every game, but it’s what we strive for. The fact we’re doing that means we must be playing better than anticipated right now."

Anticipation and expectation are getting adjusted in New Rochelle, where the best team in the northeast not named UConn is playing catch-your-breath basketball thanks to the most surprising new NBA prospect the sport has so far this season.

Photo: AP

Posted on: November 17, 2011 3:43 pm
 

Hummel hits game-winner as Purdue beats Iona

By Matt Norlander

The game was played a 1 p.m. on a Thursday, well after the excitement from ESPN's 24-hour basketball marathon had worn off. There were, maybe, a thousand people in the Coliseo de Puerto Rico.

Still, Iona-Purdue was arguably the best televised game of basketball so far this season, which is now a week and a half old. The game was a first-round matchup in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and the Boilermakers won 91-90 after Robbie Hummel (right) coolly hit a 3 coming off a roll on the right side of the floor. Hummel scored a game-high 24 points, grabbing nine boards in the process. It's probably an ego booster -- in a good way -- for Hummel, who missed the majority of the past two years with ACL injuries.

We've well-documented what Hummel's gone through. Will his senior year be a feel-good story? Who knows. If it is, this is a great start to that. (And how great does Goodman feel to have his Hummel avatar on Twitter now?)

He looked very, very good today. Without Hummel, who knows what Purdue is.

What it's not right now: defensive-minded. The Gaels (who also didn't engage when playing on their heels) went where they pleased against a team that's been ranked 16th or better in points-per-possession defense the past five years.

Iona's MoMo Jones, who scored a team-high 17 points and took over at point guard after Scott Machado fouled out with three minutes to go, showed flashes of his bad self, as it was his turnover after Hummel's 3 that prevented Iona from getting its best shot to snag the upset. He also hit a couple of big shots before that, but Jones' M.O. is being feast or famine. Arizona fans know this all too well.

For Iona, it's a win that got away. Could end up being a critical one, too. This team has NCAA tournament talent, and if that's true, then it's got at-large-quality talent. But the Gaels lack a lot of chances on their schedule to get impressive wins. The more they lose in the next month, the less they can afford to lose any games in the MAAC, which will have Fairfield chasing them step for step.

Photo: AP
Posted on: October 26, 2011 5:16 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 5:23 pm
 

Momo Jones seeks to return to form with Iona

By Matt Norlander

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- I stopped in at Iona's practice Wednesday morning. The Gaels, who five seasons ago won just two games, are now the favorites to win the MAAC in 2011-12.

They should have won the league tournament last March, but awful shooting and lackluster hustle led to a St. Peter's upset.

The reason for the return of high hopes are three-fold: Michael Glover, the preseason Player of the Year; Scott Machado, who we think is one of the 30 best point guards in college basketball; and MoMo Jones, the junior transfer from Arizona with the exciting-but-enigmatic game.

I watched Iona practice and scrimmage for more than two hours. But I'll get to those facets and observations, particularly Machado and Glover, later on. For now, I want to talk to you about what Jones talked to me about Wednesday morning.

Jones, who's letting his hair grow out and resembling Donald Glover these days, spoke for a good 25 minutes about his life, himself, the change of scenery and why it's a choose-your-own-adventure kind of time for him now.

He didn't practice. Why? Well, it actually dates back to the tournament game against Texas, when Gary Johnson and Jordan Hamilton sandwiched Jones on a breakaway layup attempt. He landed awkwardly on his knee, and thereafter he had a cracking sound -- with no pain -- for a few weeks. He dealt with it, sometimes jerking his knee into place before it cracked as a sign of normalcy/relief. That's not normal, but again, he was never in pain; he soon discovered it was worn-out cartilage that had built up over years of going full throttle on cement courts.

Jones landed on his knee at Iona's first official practice, so he took a shot and is sitting out a little while longer. He'll likely rejoin the team in practice by week's end, or Monday at the latest.

Having said that, a few tidbits from our conversation that I'm able to share. First of all, Jones said he never intended on leaving Arizona. The decision came fast, and after the season, but he's made the move because of his grandmother's illness. He wants to be close to her, to stay in daily communication and be a weekly physical presence for her, his mother, and his little sister. Iona coach Tim Cluess expected Jones to get cleared for this year due to the severity of his grandmother's illness (which is still in limbo, but doesn't seem immediate).

Jones is an entirely different guy off the floor. On it, he's arrogant beyond confident, brash and unafraid to do whatever he'd like. It's why Arizona fans got so frustrated with him. He can play the point, but he prefers the combo-guard position. It's what he couldn't do at Arizona. It's what he will do at Iona. Jones played at the prep level beside shooters like Kemba Walker and Doron Lamb. He knows how to acquiesce, so long as he's playing against seriously skilled two-guards with range. (I wonder how it will work, as Machado and Jones will go back and forth at the 1. But that's a post/column for another day.)

The guy -- guy, not kid -- wants to lead this team. I think he will, and so does Cluess. But there's still plenty for him to prove. He's probably not as good as he thinks he is, at least not right now. Few players lived and died in spurts like Jones did at Arizona. What I do know: Jones is a player obsessed with himself and his abilities. He rattled off random stats from games past I couldn't even remember taking place. I'm talking points, assists, rebounds and turnovers.

He has NBA aspirations; I don't know if he's honestly thinking about making the leap after this year, his junior campaign. From what I gather, he was debating the NBA at certain points while at Arizona. Why that shouldn't be a problem at Iona: Jones knwos the guys there. He's from Harlem and played at the high school and prep level against a number of Iona's players. He's known Machado and Glover for years and years. They were friends long before they were teammates.

Plus, Jones isn't the best player on this team (it's Glover, and Cluess would take Machado and junior Kyle Smyth over Jones right now). Though he's so, so confident, I think Jones knows how vital this season is for him.

"My life can go in one of two very different directions," he said. "I can work hard, help this team and make my dream come true, or I can ruin it."

That self-awareness, particularly with a player that voluntarily chose to go from an elite program to a MAAC one, isn't that common. Iona's going to be a lot of fun to watch. Jones will be part of that. Seeing how he goes back to being the guard he wants to be, and seeing how that improves (or, who knows, maybe it doesn't) Iona's team will be one of the biggest mid-major storylines this season.

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
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