I can honestly say that this is a sentence that I never thought that I would write: the MAAC may be a two-bid conference this season.
I’m not saying that for effect, either. If things break the right way, the MAAC may be deserving of an at-large bid.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because Arizona transfer Momo Jones, who was the second-leading scorer and starting point guard on a team that came within a missed three on their final possession from making it to the Final Four, was cleared yesterday to play this season for Iona. That means Jones joins a team that already returns its top four players and six of their top eight scorers, including the nation’s assist leader in Scott Machado and double-double machine Mike Glover, the man known as Optimus Prime and one of the best low-major players in the country.
That announcement instantly makes Iona the best team in the New York Metro area. And that includes St. John’s and Seton Hall.
“I don’t cringe because I think it’s exciting they’re talking about Iona basketball and they even have us in the conversation,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said to Jeff Eisenberg of The Dagger. “It’s thrilling for us and it’s a nice buzz to have for our campus. I always think expectations are great because people are going to come and watch. That’s what we want is for people to watch us play.”
“I think our guards are as good as any guards around at our level and even above our level,” Cluess said. “I think guys are not going to be able to take plays or time off because if they do there may be someone replacing them and they may not be able to get in.”
Isn’t it scary to think that the best team in the New York Metro region might not even be the best team in the MAAC?
That’s a very real possibility, as Fairfield is loaded as well. They start a MAAC Player of the Year candidate at the point in Derek Needham. They bring back four of their five starters from a team that won the league by two games and add two impact transfers, one of whom — Rakim Sanders — was a double digit scorer at BC for three years.
Frankly, we’ll know by end of November whether or not either team will have a shot at getting an at-large bid. If they want a real chance, these teams are going to have to win games early on in the season. They’ll have to beat a couple high-major programs to help boost their league-wide RPI.
There will be plenty of chances. Iona starts the season off against Purdue in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off while Fairfield begins their trip to the Old Spice Classic with a game against Arizona State. Winning those first round games and getting into the winner’s bracket is crucial because he means stiffer competition the rest of the tournament. Iona will also play St. Joe’s at home and Richmond, William & Mary and Marshall on the road, and the Bracketbusters event. The rest of Fairfield’s non-conference schedule includes Providence and Old Dominion at home and road trips to Minnesota, Drexel and UConn.
If Iona and Fairfield can both scrape together some wins against bigger foes and both finish with one loss in the league, they could very well end up in the Big Dance.