Iona needs more Scott Machado triple-doubles (and defense)

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Scott Machado’s triple-double was overdue. But it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Iona’s senior point guard logged 10 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds in Sunday’s 83-74 win against Marist. It’s just the second triple-double in school history, but probably should’ve been Machado’s fourth this season.

He needed four more points vs. William & Mary on Dec. 21. He needed one more of everything against Siena on Jan. 3. Against Rider on Jan. 20? One measly assist. It’s nice to see the nation’s assist leader finally reach that mark.

But I’m sure Iona was even happier. When Machado’s dealing, it usually means good things for the Gaels, who rebounded from a blown opportunity at Loyola (Md.) on Friday for a victory that puts them back into the MAAC driver’s seat.

Barely.

According to Big Apple Buckets, Iona (20-6, 12-3 MAAC) is now a slight favorite to win the MAAC because Loyola stumbled Sunday at Fairfield. They’re tied for the lead, but Iona gets three of its last four games at home. Loyola’s on the road for all but one.

Not that the Gaels – the conference’s most talented and dynamic offensive team – should relax. Friday was a mess. I’ll let John Templon explain:

The problem was the defense. There’s an established baseline of how bad Iona’s defense can be and still win games against good competition, this game exceeded that threshold. The Gaels have lost four of five games this season when they’ve allowed their opponent to score more than 1.13 points per possession. The one win was against Canisius. The four losses were to Purdue, Loyola (MD), Manhattan and Marshall – four of the best teams on Iona’s schedule.

It’s a pity that the defense hasn’t shown up in these big spots, because the Gaels have played alright offensively in each of those games. But even with all the talent Iona has on the offensive side of the ball, it’s not really prepared for a shootout. At the end of a shootout you have to get one or two key stops that help you get back into the game and win it. Iona can’t make those plays. …

The more I think about it and the more I look at the stats Iona reminds me of fast-paced Northwestern. Both teams have elite offenses and suspect defenses. When they go up against good competition the cracks in the defense begin to show and the team struggles a bit.

That’s worth noting, even if the Gaels do win the regular-season title. The MAAC tourney won’t be a breeze if their defense can’t give them any breathing room, which’d be a shame. Having an elite offensive team in the Big Dance is a dream scenario for viewers and anyone rooting for an upset or two in the bracket.

Not that I’m rooting against Fairfield or Manhattan or Loyola. Any of ’em win, good luck. I just know that Iona’s the best equipped to win an NCAA tournament game.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.