For a team that won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s last two straight regular season titles, the Iona Gaels still feel like a team with unfulfilled potential.
“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we were going to win 26 games in the regular season, I would have thought you were out of your mind,” head coach Tim Cluess said. “I’m really really proud of what the guys did to accomplish that during the regular season.”
It appeared that the Gaels were about to cruise to their third NCAA tournament berth under Cluess until Manhattan’s defense enveloped their high powered attack in the MAAC championship game. A night after the Gaels broke the tournament record for three-pointers made, they shot a season-low 22.7% from beyond the arc.
The Gaels’ offensive sputtered without junior Isaiah Williams for the majority of conference play. Iona made fewer than 30% of its three-pointers seven times from Jan. 18, the first game Williams missed, to the end of the season. The 6’7″ junior came back in the final six games of the season, but was hardly the same as what he was in the early part of the season.
Cluess has been very formulaic in trying to build a way to replace the production of players who have departed due to graduation. Two seasons ago that meant building a way to replace MoMo Jones’ scoring, or this past year finding a player to replace what Sean Armand brought to the table in terms of leadership and shooting. This coming season, it will be how to replace David Laury, who has been practically indispensable over the last two and a half seasons. The 6’9″ senior ranked second on the team with 19.8 ppg and ranked second in the conference with 9.7 rpg, carrying the conference’s Player of the Year award home with him this season.
“I mean Dave is a loss and I get it, he’s different and all that, but we have everybody else back and a lot of the guys coming back with some experience,” Cluess said. “We have to fill his spot and we’re going to look at it the same way we look at filling Sean Armand or Tre Bowman; we’re not going to get the exact player but those numbers can be spread out.”
Cluess envisions a future where the shots Laury took may be more evenly distributed amongst Williams and Schadrac Casimir, the MAAC’s Rookie of the Year who averaged 14.5 ppg, to replace the scoring. How they fill the rebounding ability Laury brought may be a more difficult task.
“I think our toughness and rebounding needs a lot of improvement,” Cluess said. “I think our recruiting is going to be very important in filling that void of losing Dave, but I think we will have a chance of being a much better defensive team with somebody else there.”
The Gaels have James Madison transfer Taylor Bessick sitting out who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining. The 6’8″ forward averaged 6.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg with the Dukes as a sophomore before transferring to New Rochelle and could fit the rebounding equation the Gaels need. They also recently received a verbal commitment from junior college transfer Jordan Washington, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
While the bench gave Cluess some bright spots in Williams’ absence, they will need to come along to help the Gaels win a third straight regular season title.
“I feel like they all contributed to help us during that stretch to play well without [Williams], but I also think the weaknesses in their games really showed up as well,” Cluess said. “The areas that they really need to work on in the offseason, if they didn’t think they had to work on them and believe me, they sure as heck should know right now that those weaknesses were exploited as we moved to the latter part of the season.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.
One thought on “Iona Looking To Fulfill Potential For MAAC Run”
Cluess is a very good coach, but he needs to develop his bench early in the season and provide them with consistent minutes. Otherwise he gets beat in March relying on 6 players with their tongues hanging out from exhaustion. The same pattern every year. Oh, and have the team play a little defense. It will go a long way.