Iona searching for tourney title, NCAA bid
“I’ve been in this game for a while,” Patsos began, citing his time as an assistant at Maryland under Gary Williams, “and I’ve seen a lot of college basketball. With the schedule they’ve played and the players they have, they should be in the NCAA tournament regardless.”
Patsos, always outspoken, of course, is not on the NCAA tournament selection committee.
And while Iona does have a legitimate at-large claim – a 5-3 record against the RPI top-100 with 14 road/neutral site wins – its best bet is still to claim the automatic berth awarded to the conference tournament champion.
“Our league is very underrated and I think we’ve shown what we can do against higher-level teams,” said Gaels coach Tim Cluess. “I also think higher-level teams this year aren’t what they’re supposed to be. I don’t think those leagues are what they were a year or two ago. There’s a lot of parity in college basketball today so if we were to get upset, I think our league should get a second team in.
That won’t be easy in a conference as even as the MAAC.
“I think every team in the tournament is a dangerous team,” Cluess said. “I don’t think there is anyone you can look at and say, ‘that’s a win.’ Anybody can get knocked off in this tournament. That’s what’s fun about this league – that the teams are so competitive.
The Gaels finished the regular season 24-6 overall and 15-3 in the league to claim the top seed. Two other squads – Loyola and Manhattan – both finished with at least 20 wins. The Greyhounds went 21-8 (13-5) and the Jaspers 20-11 (12-6).
“The way the matchups have fallen, you’re going to see a lot of teams that have been in battles,” said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello. “There are going to be some real hard-fought games as this things unfold.”
The tournament begins Friday night at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., with eighth-seeded Marist taking on ninth-seeded St. Peter’s (7:30 p.m.) followed by seventh-seeded Niagara facing 10th-seeded Canisius (9:30 p.m.). The Marist-St. Peter’s winner faces top-seed Iona while the Niagara-Canisius winner gets second-seeded Loyola.
Quarterfinal play begins Saturday with Rider and Fairfield getting the action started at 2:30 p.m. in the 4-5 matchup. Third-seeded Manhattan tangles with sixth-seeded Siena in the fourth quarterfinal.
“The MAAC tournament will be wide open,” Patsos said, “but you have to enjoy it a little.”