Iona Hits The Road

The college basketball season begins in little over a week, but the Iona Gaels’ hiatus from their home court will last until December.

Iona has achieved a .883 winning percentage at home in six years under Tim Cluess, but the Gaels own a .563 record away from home.
Iona has achieved a .883 home winning percentage in six years under Tim Cluess, but the Gaels own just a .563 record away from the Hynes Center.

For the sixth time in the last decade the Gaels open their season on the road, this season with a trip to Florida State on Nov. 15. The Seminoles are coming off a 20-win season, and have been projected as a middle of the pack squad in the crowded ACC. From there, Iona will travel west to take on Nevada. The Wolf Pack put together a 24-win season en route to a College Basketball Invitational championship last year, and project to be a key contender in the Mountain West Conference once again.

Iona will take part in two in-season events this year, the GCI Great Alaska Shootout from Nov. 24-26, and the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas from Dec. 21-22. Coincidentally, Nevada will join the Gaels at both events, with the possibility of a rematch in Anchorage.

The GCI Great Alaska Shootout field also features host Alaska Anchorage (D-II), Buffalo, Oakland, UC Davis, Weber State, and Iona’s first round opponent, Drake. This will also be the second consecutive year the Gaels make a trip to Las Vegas. Iona will look to avenge a loss to UC Santa Barbara in last year’s South Point Holiday Hoops Classic, then take on Towson the following day.

Upon their return to the tri-state area from Anchorage, Iona will begin MAAC play against Saint Peter’s at the Yanitelli Center Dec. 2 before finally opening up the Hynes Center against Niagara two days later.

“What it really does for your team is you find out a lot about all your players, the new guys especially,” head coach Tim Cluess, who will seek to incorporate six newcomers this season, said of the early-season road trips. “You find out who can play in certain environments. Road games are always tougher environments, so who can really step up to those and do well, and who struggles with them?”

It is the first time in a decade Iona must wait until December to play in front of a home crowd. The 2006-07 Gaels, who opened the season on a 22-game losing streak and finished an abysmal 2-28 in former head coach Jeff Ruland’s final year, began the year with eight games on the road. They too opened their home slate against Niagara, on Dec. 19.

In all, the Gaels are slated for just four home games in the 2016 portion of their schedule. They will play host to Ohio and NJIT in back-to-back games in mid-December, marking their only two home non-conference contests, before facing Marist on New Year’s Eve.

“We’re just ready to compete,” junior guard Deyshonee Much said. “Whoever wants to play us, we’re ready to play. Regardless of where we have to go, we’re just ready to play.”

But how vital has home court been to Iona’s success in recent years? Cluess has led the team to an astounding 140-65 (.683) record over his six seasons in New Rochelle, far and away the best in the New York Metro area during that time span. In home games that record jumps to a stellar 68-9 (.883), the most wins of any coach in the history of the Hynes Center.

However, in road and neutral site games Iona’s record under Cluess dips to just 72-56 (.563). Despite a winning record away from home, Iona clearly isn’t the same when removed from the friendly confines of the Hynes Center. It is a challenge the Gaels will have to face head on with 10 games outside of New Rochelle before the New Year.

“You’re playing against high-level teams that will also help you figure out the weaknesses of your team rather quickly,” Cluess added in regard to road contests. “So when you get back home, you have a lot to work on. I think you grow from there, and you grow from those experiences.”

As a famous Gale once said, there’s no place like home. But these Gaels will have to learn to live on the road.

Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for NYC Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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