Tiny Dancers: Iona’s going dancing, Monmouth joins at-large pool

One of the most fun stories in college basketball this season is going to have to wait until Selection Sunday to find out if it gets to go dancing.

The Monmouth Hawks fell on Monday to Iona 79-76 in the MAAC Tournament final, meaning Iona gets the automatic bid out of the Metro Atlantic. Because of that, the Hawks will now have to wait for six days to find out if they get to go dancing.

On the plus side, King Rice’s group has defeated Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Georgetown. On the down side, their resume features losses to Manhattan, Army and Canisius, all of whom have KenPom ratings below 220. It’s a unique resume that will lead to a lot of discussion in the coming days.

But before that discussion, how about some love for Iona? The Gaels under Tim Cluess — who are now going to their third NCAA Tourney in his six years — have long been considered an offensive powerhouse, But this year, the defense actually matched up and pulled its share of the weight. Iona is currently 120th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, so it’s not like they’re a juggernaut on that end. But it’s the best mark a Cluess-coached team has put up at Iona, and that defense showed up again Monday, especially late in this one.

This is a team that’s still going to get up and go as well as play a wide-open, spread-out offense, meaning they’re going to be a must-see team in the Tournament. What else do you need to know about Iona? Here’s a quick primer.

Player to watch: Iona guard A.J. English is one of the best players in America, period, and it would have been a shame to not see him play in the NCAA Tournament before his career ended this March. He’s averaging 22 points, six assists and five rebounds per game from the point guard position with a near-60 percent true-shooting rate. He’ll have a shot to be the best player on the floor in an NCAA Tournament game, and not many mid-majors can say they have a guy like that.

The Vitals:

    • Record: 22-10 overall, 16-4 in the MAAC (No. 2 seed)
    • Most recent tournament appearance: 2013 (No. 15 seed who lost to No. 2 Ohio State 95-70 in the Round of 64)
    • Jerry Palm predicts: 15 seed
    • RPI: 56
    • KenPom ranking: 76
    • Sagarin ranking: 98
    • Best wins: Monmouth (twice)
    • Worst losses: Rider, Fairfield
    • Notable stat: 860. Under Cluess, Iona has been renowned for their addiction to 3-pointers, and this team is no different (although, a bit less inclined than the past). The Gaels have taken 860 3s this season, good for ninth nationally. This isn’t necessarily the offensive juggernaut that it was last season, but if the Gaels get hot they can push anyone to the brink.

Closing quip: Iona is one of the most fun teams in college basketball to watch. They push in transition, shoot 3s with reckless abandon, and play wide-open, spacing oriented basketball. Remember, in the preseason the Gaels were considered one of the most likely mid-majors to wreak havoc in March before a dry spell in the non-conference season made some people forget about that. If I was a high-major, this is not a team I’d want to see on the other side of my draw because of that unique offensive ability to get hot on offense.

Iona is going dancing again. (USATSI)
Iona is going dancing again. (USATSI)

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