Introducing Cinderella: Iona wins the MAAC for the fourth straight year

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There were just two seconds left on the game clock when Davauhnte Turner stepped to the free throw line in the MAAC quarterfinals on Friday night.

Turner had scored 23 points on the night. He was the leading scorer for No. 9 seed St. Peter’s, and if he hit both ends of a one-and-one, the Peacocks would be advancing past top-seeded Iona to get to the semifinals of the MAAC tournament in Albany, N.Y.

Turner, an 80 percent free throw shooter on the season, missed the front end, and the Gaels never looked back.

On Monday night, Iona dispatched No. 6 seed Monmouth, 81-60, behind Asante Gist, who led five scorers in double-figures with 22 points. It capped off a wild turnaround for Iona this season, as the Gaels lost nine of their first 11 games and say at just 5-6 in league play as of Feb. 10th. But they reeled off seven straight wins to close out the regular season — taking down the MAAC regular season title in the process — before three wins in four days sent them back to the NCAA tournament.

And at this point, we should just assume that this is always going to be what happens with this group.

It’s the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for the Gaels.

It’s the sixth time in nine seasons as the head coach of Iona that Cluess has been to the NCAA tournament.

And you thought the Warriors were a dynasty …

CONFERENCE: MAAC

COACH: Tim Cluess

RECORD: 17-15, 12-6 MAAC (1st)

RATINGS

  • KENPOM: 206
  • NET: 208

PROJECTED SEED: As of the latest NBC Sports bracket projection, Iona is headed directly for a play-in game. Given their record, their ratings and the fact that the MAAC is way down this season, I can’t imagine that they climb off the 16 seed line.

NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: The two best players on the Iona roster are E.J. Crawford and Rodney McGill. Both guards were named all-MAAC first team, and McGill finished top four in league play in scoring, assists and steals. Tajuan Agee is an all-league big man, and Gist is good enough to lead the team in scoring in the biggest game of the season.

BIG WINS, BAD LOSSES: Iona not only does not have a win over a team that’s ranked in the top 185 of the NET, they only played three teams that rank in the top 170. They were blown out at VCU, they lost at Providence by 12 and they lost at Yale by 15. They have just two Q3 wins — Hartford on a neutral and at Rider — and sit at a cozy 15-8 against Q4 opponents.

Gross.

STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW: At the very least, you know what you are going to get out of Iona. They’re going to run, they’re going to score a lot of points and they might even pretend to try and play defense on a few possessions. In Cluess’ nine years at Iona, there has been just one season where his team did not finish the year as the most efficient offense in the conference. There have been exactly zero seasons where the Gaels finished top 130 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

HOW DO I KNOW YOU?: The Gaels have been to the NCAA tournament six times in the last nine years, but they’ve never been seeded higher than 13th and they’ve never won a game. So you know them as the team you always pick to lose.

FINAL THOUGHT: At some point you have to figure a bigger program is going to come sniffing around Tim Cluess, right? He coaches an entertaining brand of basketball, he knows how to recruit, his teams win regular season titles and he clearly knows how to coach in a tournament setting. What else is there to succeeding as a college basketball coach?