Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Men's Preview: Talented Iona Needs Time To Mesh

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams.

Up now ...


2011-12 RECORD: 15-3 in MAAC play, 25-8 overall. Lost in the MAAC tournament's semifinal round, 85-75, to Fairfield. Received an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament and lost a first-round game, 78-72, to BYU.

KEY RETURNEES: 6-0 senior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones (15.7 points per game), 6-4 junior guard Sean Armond (9.5), 6-7 senior forward Taj Ridley (6.7, 4.0).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Mike Glover (18.3, 9.0), guard Scott Machado (13.7, 9.9 assists), guard Kyle Smyth (5.5), guard Jermel Jenkins (5.5).

KEY ADDITIONS: 6-5 junior guard Tre Bowman, transfer from Midland Junior College, Tex.; 5-9 sophomore guard Tavon Sledge, transfer from Iowa State; 6-5 senior guard Curtis Dennis, transfer from Toledo; 6-9 junior center Shawn Jackson, transfer from Northwest Florida Junior College.

NOTES: Game programs should be a big seller at Iona games until fans get familiar with a roster that includes an unprecedented (within the MAAC) nine new players this year: two traditional freshmen, four from junior college programs, two transfers from four-year schools and a graduate student (Dennis) ... In "reloading," the program is likely to avoid the traditional drop mid-major level teams have after losing two first-team all-conference players (Glover, Machado), but it's still likely to have some growing pains at least for the early part of the season. So far, Iona has beaten Denver (an NCAA team last season) and Wake Forest of the ACC, but has lost to Quinnipiac (picked for fourth in the Northeast Conference) and Illinois-Chicago (picked for 8th in the 9-team Horizon League) ...No one, though, doubts that there's considerable talent in place, led by senior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones, whose college career began at Arizona. He's currently the MAAC's leading scorer (25.8 ppg.). Joining him in the backcourt is Sean Armond (21.3 ppg. thus far), and they might wind up being the nation's highest-scoring backcourt this season. Add Tre Bowman, a 6-5 swingman (14.3 ppg. so far), and that's considerable firepower on the perimeter ... Iona, though, won't be the same team as last year, not after losing Machado, who led the nation in assists a year ago. Although Jones is averaging 4.0 assists per game, he's more of a shoot-first point guard. Sledge is closer to the traditional pass-first point guard, but he's only started one of the team's first four games thus far ... The parts seemed to fit better together last year. But, they also had some time to develop together. If coach Tim Cluess can get this group's chemistry in smooth-running order, Iona could be more than a handful at some point ... But, there's another transition to come. After first semester games end, 6-8, 240-pound multi-talented forward David Laury (a transfer from Lamar State) becomes eligible and is likely to get big minutes right away ... For now, the Gaels are mostly going seven deep, but Laury gives them a strong eight-man rotation when he returns. And, even players who haven't gotten a lot of minutes thus far are capable of contributing at this level. Plus, between Laury and 6-9 front-courter Shawn Jackson, the Gaels will have the type height it lacked a year ago.

IONA'S STRENGTHS: Talent, as much of it top-to-bottom as any MAAC team. Jones, Dennis and Sledge all come from higher-level programs, and both Laury and, probably, Armand, could play at a higher level, too. The height deficiency (last season's "big" man Glover was all of about 6-6 1/2) that came into play, particularly against BYU, won't be so pronounced this year. Plus, Iona has an ability to put points on the board that's rare at this level, particularly from the perimeter players.

IONA'S WEAKNESSES: Chemistry. With so many new players joining the program all at once, and another coming aboard for the second semester, there are naturally questions about how quickly things can fall into place. Plus, the team needs to adjust from having the nation's best passer (Machado) running things a year ago to not having that luxury any longer. The belief here, though, is that head coach Tim Cluess is good enough at these things to have his team sharp by later this season.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: On talent alone, one might rate the Gaels the best team in the MAAC. But, Iona does have issues, mostly the adjustment to the newcomers and playing a style that doesn't involve a pass-first point guard like it had in Machado a year ago. League coaches picked Iona to third in the regular-season standings this season, and there won't be any argument here on that prediction. Iona could challenge for the top spot, but the guess here is that it will finish second or third in the final standings.

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