By: Jack O’Keefe
Spread: Iona -4.5
4:00 pm Central – Hynes Athletics Center, New Rochelle, NY
Manhattan Jaspers (5-8, 4-8)
Let’s try this again! Last time I wrote a preview that featured Manhattan, the game was postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. As I mentioned in my previous preview, Manhattan had been on a nice rolling, winning three in a row heading into their matchup with Monmouth late in January. Well, the good times are no longer rolling for the Jaspers. Manhattan lost two in a row to the Saint Peter’s Peacocks in the last few days of January, and they most recently dropped two in a row versus the Monmouth Hawks. What once looked promising with a 5-4 record now looks a little more dreary for the Jaspers at 5-8. The Jaspers are currently sitting in ninth place within the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) standings, so Manhattan has their work cut out for them in the seven games that remain on their schedule.
The three main cogs in the machine for Manhattan I mentioned last month have still been producing at an efficient rate for Coach Masiello. Over the last month, Warren Williams has averaged 13.3 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Jaspers. Williams was one rebound shy of a double-double last outing against Manhattan. He had accumulated double-doubles in the previous two starts for Manhattan. Elijah Buchanan has been playing solid basketball as well, averaging 10.3 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game for Manhattan over the last month. Lastly, Adrian Nelson is averaging 10.2 points per game, 2.2 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game for Manhattan over the last month.
In their four consecutive losses, the Jaspers have struggled to find their shooting touch from the floor. Manhattan has shot 34.4% from the field over their last four games, which has lowered their shooting percentage on the season to 35.8% (346th in Division-I). Manhattan is at their best when holding opponents to less than 60 points per game this season (4-1 record when opponents score less than 60 points). The Jaspers are allowing 67 points over their four game losing skid. The main objective remains the same for the Jaspers as it did in my previous preview: play a grind-it-out tempo game tonight against Iona if they want a chance to win the game. The Gaels have not played in several months, so there will be some initial rust, which Manhattan needs to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise.
Iona Gaels (5-3, 3-1)
March 12, 2020. The college basketball season concluded, as the COVID-19 pandemic began its course in the United State. March 14, 2020. The Iona Gaels announced the replacement of the 10-year head coach, Tim Cluess, as none other than Rick Pitino. As a kid, I was a big fan of the Louisville Cardinals, particularly Coach Pitino. The way he commanded his team to push the ball on offense and utilize a full-court pressure defensive intensity simply amazed me. It was extremely painful to find out the scandals that unfolded within the program under Pitino’s watch. That being said, we are a country built on second chances, and I believe Coach Pitino is entitled to his shot at redemption. For a well-decorated program like Iona, I cannot think of a better coach to fill the void of the success laid out by Tim Cluess.
The Gaels have been hit hard by the pandemic within the program this year. After starting the year out with a 22-point drubbing from Seton Hall, Coach Pitino had the team refocused and prepared for the next game on the calendar. The Gaels defeated Hofstra by eight points, an impressive feat considering Iona was an 8.5-point underdog. The Gaels then lost to Morgan State, ouch, and split a two-game series between the Fairfield Stags. Not many were sure what to expect from the 2-3 Iona Gaels. After winning the next three games against Rider (twice) and Coppin State in convincing fashion, the Gaels began to get a little mojo working in their favor. Then COVID-19 took a hold of the Iona Gaels program. The Gaels would have their next five-games postponed, and almost two months removed since their last game against a live opponent. It will be an interesting test to see just how the initial rust, if any, hinders the team offensively.
Isaiah Ross is the engine that drives the Iona offense this season. Ross is averaging 22.3 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game for Iona. The sample size is obviously small given the fact that Iona has only played eight games, but Ross is shooting the ball lights out from beyond the three-point line. He is shooting 42.4% from three-point land this season, which is not far off from his 40.1% three-point percentage last year with 29 games played. Asante Gist has been a x-factor for Iona this season as well. Gist is averaging 12.5 points per game and 4.2 assists per game, which is only behind Rider’s Dwight Murray (4.6 assists per game) for assist per game leader in the MAAC. The Gaels are not flashy offensively, but they know how to take an opposing team out of rhythm with their defense prowess. The Gaels are holding opponents to 67.1 points per game this season (81st in Division-I) and opposing teams are shooting 42.8% from the field this season (142nd in Division-I). Given the long layoff, I think Iona is going to rely on their defense to get them in a manageable spot against the Jaspers in the first half. This then can then lead to more confidence scoring points offensively, which I believe will allow Iona to score more points in the second half.
It is hard to say how Iona will respond tonight given the hiatus that they have endured from competition due to COVID-19 concerns. Iona is the better of the two teams here, and I think that we will see that shown during the second half of the game. I expect Manhattan to be within a possession or even have a slim lead going into the locker room, but Iona will then come out with a strong showing in the second half to take control of the game. Manhattan has beat Iona once in the last ten times these two teams have faced one another. The Jaspers have not won in New Rochelle since 2012. After going on a tear covering four straight games, the Jaspers have since covered once in their last three outings. Again, Iona has not played in such a long time, but the Gaels have covered the spread in five out of their eight games this season. I will take Iona -4.5 as my best bet in this game.
Jack’s 2020 CBB picks: (18-17)