|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.