SGOTW: Iona vs. Manhattan

One team just scored 105 points, the other has won eight straight games. The winner will be in first place and it’s a “Green Out” at one of the best gyms in New York City. You shouldn’t need anymore reasons to go to Iona-Manhattan on Saturday night, but in case you do how about this: The Gaels will be looking for revenge.

The last time these two teams met Iona seemed to have the game in hand, but poor play during the final eight minutes cost them a key MAAC victory at home. Manhattan freshman Emmy Andujar banked in the game-winning three as time expired and the Jaspers continued rolling.

The problems that plagued Iona during those final minutes have continued as the season has gone on. Sure Iona scored 105 points on Thursday night against Canisius, but the Gaels also allowed the Golden Griffins to score 86 in 76 possessions. Momo Jones scored a Hynes Center record 43 points, but Gaby Belardo managed 27.

Canisius couldn’t slow down Iona, but Manhattan can. In fact, the Jaspers already did once. The last time these two teams met Iona scored 72 points in 64 possessions an okay, but not great mark for the Gaels. If Iona struggles even a bit shooting the ball on Saturday night they could be in trouble again.

For Manhattan, winners of eight straight, this is a chance to prove that win wasn’t a fluke. It’s another chance for Steve Masiello, George Beamon and the rest of the team to once again validate the fact that Manhattan is back. Remember the disrespect that MAAC – and Manhattan especially – was shown in the BracketBusters selections? Well, here’s the Jaspers’ chance to take it to the team that got the TV game and the marquee matchup.

Iona keys to the game:

1. Rebound — The Gaels have been a mediocre rebounding team all season. As conference play has gone along Iona’s work on the boards has actually improved. Currently Iona sits at 3rd in offensive rebounding and 4th in defensive rebounding in MAAC play. That’s good because often they seem disinterested about going to the boards. You can’t allow second shots against Manhattan, so Iona will have to focus on getting to the glass.

2. Get to the foul line — If there’s one weakness in Iona’s game it’s that they don’t go to the foul line very often. The Gaels are 7th in the MAAC in offensive free throw rate. Manhattan has the best defense in the MAAC, but its one weakness has been in giving up those freebies. Scott Machado, Jones and the rest of Iona’s guards need to be aggressive going to the basket. Randy Dezouvre and Taaj Ridley might be able to get the Gaels some needed points by doing the same.

3. Play a full 40 minutes — Iona was leading by just four points, 51-47, at half against Canisius. If Tim Cluess’ club plays defense like that against Manhattan for the first 20 minutes they’ll probably have a big hole to dig out from. Also, there’s no way a situation like the last eight minutes can be reprised. If Iona managed to gain an advantage it must continuing pressing onwards instead of sitting back like it has against some other opponents.

Manhattan keys to the game:

1. Hang onto the basketball — MAAC play hasn’t alleviated Manhattan’s turnover concerns. The Jaspers are 9th in the conference in offensive turnover rate. That’s way too often. Turnovers against Iona lead to easy points, so they’ll have to be especially prudent about hanging onto the basketball.

2. Calm down, slow down — A corollary of sorts to No. 1 this one directly impacts the youth of the Jaspers. In a number of big games Andujar has struggled early. It has to be nerves though, because in each of those games he’s come back to make a big impact. Teammates like Donovan Kates and Ryan McCoy (both freshman) and Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado (sophomores) need to not let the intense atmosphere take them out off their game.

3. Play defense, keep it close — If this is a low-scoring game Manhattan has a better chance to win. In fact, Ken Pomeroy currently gives Manhattan a 52% chance of winning the game (74-73 in 72 possessions). If the Jaspers can find a way to hold Iona under a point per possession it gives them a great chance to get a victory. Make this a scrappy, Manhattan style battle. Force tough shots and the Jaspers can win.

It should be an awesome game. Head up to Riverdale in the Bronx for one of the best college basketball games of the entire season. I’ll be there as soon as I can.

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