One day prior to his team beginning a run towards a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, Iona head coach Tim Cluess has been rewarded with a contract extension through the 2018-19 season. Currently in his fourth season in New Rochelle, Cluess has won 90 games and led Iona to two MAAC regular season titles.
“The success Coach Cluess has had since arriving at Iona has been almost unprecedented,” Iona AD Rick Cole Jr. said in the release announcing the news. “We’re very excited to have him on board for at least another five years. His commitment to the overall success of his student-athletes is what makes Coach Cluess the right man for Iona.”
The Gaels won the MAAC regular season title this season, wrapping up at the very least a spot in the Postseason NIT. With that being the case Iona will make a postseason appearance in each of Cluess’ four seasons at the helm, and he’s also the first head coach in program history to begin his tenure with four straight 20-win seasons.
Iona will have to account for the loss of seniors such as Sean Armand, Tre Bowman and Mike Poole at the conclusion of the current season, but the Gaels will have enough talent back to contend in 2014-15. A.J. English, David Laury III and Isaiah Williams, all with eligibility remaining, have been key contributors this season.
Last season in the MAAC tournament championship game, Iona punched its ticket to its second straight NCAA tournament, knocking off in-state rival Manhattan. A week ago, the Gaels and Jaspers met in their final meeting of the regular season with Manhattan pulling out an 80-77 overtime win over the MAAC regular season champion. They will enter as the top two seeds in Springfield this week, but getting back to the title game will prove to be difficult, I mean after all, Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said it himself, “This is not a one-bid league.”
Quinnipiac, a newcomer to the MAAC this season, has seen instant success with its frontline of Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame each grabbing 10 rebounds per game. Canisius guard Billy Baron is flying under the radar nationally for the season he’s had. He’ll try and replicate the success Iona had as the four-seed last year and lead the Golden Griffins to the Big Dance.
Siena is the last team in the MAAC with a winning conference record as first-year head coach Jimmy Patsos has his Saints riding a four-game winning streak — the only team to beat Manhattan in the last month — heading into the tournament.
The Gaels have been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, earning the automatic bid in 2013. The league’s most efficient offense has some experienced and talented offensive weapons in Sean Armand, A.J. English and David Laury. Iona can get out and run on its opponents, which help makes up for its defensive, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the MAAC in terms of efficiency. The Gaels have won 12 of their last 13, though Quinnipiac, Canisius and Manhattan — three of the other contenders in the MAAC — have all defeated them this season.
And if they lose?: Manhattan
Iona has the MAAC’s most potent offense. It’s toughest competition is Manhattan, the conference’s most efficient defenses. They have the offensive talent with George Beamon and Mike Alvardo — the two leading scorers — along Rhamel Brown inside. The Jaspers will go in with some added motivation after having their magical run as the six-seed ended inside the MassMutual Center a season ago.
Canisius: Billy Baron has the scoring prowess to lead the Golden Griffins to the title in his last chance at an NCAA tournament appearance.
Quinnipiac: The Bobcats control over the glass — an average of eight more than any other team in the MAAC — can spoil hopes of a Iona-Manhattan rematch.
Siena: The Saints, picked 10th in the MAAC preseason poll, have exceeded expectations. Can a magical tournament run cap Patsos’ first year?
Billy Baron, Canisius: The second leading scorer in the conference at 25.1 point per game. He’s also hit some clutch shots this season.
Rhamel Brown and George Beamon, Manhattan: The duo combines for 32 points and 12 rebounds per game for the Jaspers.
Sean Armand, Iona: Leads the high-powered Iona offense, which has five players averaging double figures, with 17.8 points per game.
Recently graduated Monmouth forward Marcus Ware will use his final year of eligibility at Iona and will be eligible to play for Tim Cluess immediately, reported Adam Zagoria. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 6.4 points and four rebounds per game last year at Monmouth.
This is the second transfer Iona has picked up this offseason as former Rutgers guard Mike Poole elected to take his career elsewhere following the Mike Rice fiasco.
6-8 F Marcus Ware is transferring to Iona from Monmouth. Will play immediately after graduating Monmouth.
Ware was an NEC All-Rookie Selection in 2010-11, but injuries have hindered him for much of his career. He injured his foot after just two games into his freshman season that sidelined him for the rest of the year, and he tore his ACL in a scrimmage at the end of his sophomore year causing him to miss the first eight games of his junior season.
Ware will be a veteran presence for Iona, and provided some added bulk in a lineup that is fairly undersized, especially with graduation claiming forward Taaj Ridley.
Iona head coach Tim Cluess, who led the Gaels to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons, has confirmed that he plans to stay in New Rochelle for the foreseeable future.
“I’m excited about the coming season and continuing to build on our success. I believe in the future of men’s basketball and the College itself,” Cluess said in a statement released by the college. “President Nyre and the entire Iona community have been so supportive of me and our program.”
No details of the deal have been released as yet, but Iona was wise to make the proactive gesture as a helping hand for Cluess. As much as he might love Hofstra, the program is in disarray right now, and a new contract allows him to say no without openly embarrassing his former school.
The Pride may be more likely to land an up-and-coming assistant who will happily take on the rebuilding process at this point. The allure of the CAA has dimmed considerably with the recent departures of George Mason, VCU and Old Dominion.
To follow along with the 2013 Coaching Carousel, click here.
Norvel Pelle unlikely to suit up for Iona in 2012-13
Iona has gifted this season with an influx of transfers seen only by the likes of USC on any level — low, mid or high major — this season.
With as many as six eligible transfers this season, the Gaels were going to need all of them to make for the loss of players like Michael Glover and Scott Machado, who led the nation in assists last season.
Pelle, a former St. John’s commitment, has been in limbo with his eligibility all season and as far back as the beginning of last season when he was supposed to enroll with the Red Storm. The 7-footer has yet to be cleared by the NCAA and it doesn’t look likely that it will happen anytime soon.
A source told SNY.tv that it all comes down to paperwork.
“He hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA,” a source close to the Iona basketball team told SNY.tv following Rutgers’ 81-73 victory over Iona at Madison Square Garden. “He went to so many schools, they’re still probably trying to track down his paperwork.”
Pelle is not currently on the Iona campus and he isn’t on the team’s official roster.
Iona has been average all season without Pelle, so there’s no reason to believe this affects the Gaels and coach Tim Cluess in any way. It would’ve improved the team’s post presence, but Pelle may never find his way to a college campus. He spent time at a number of schools, including a prep year, so if he hasn’t found a home 18 months into what was supposed to be his college career, it’s tough to believe it’ll happen at all.
David Harten is a sportswriter and college basketball blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.