Previewing the Iona Gaels

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Saturday, December 20th, 2014 With 0 Comments

George Mason returns to the Patriot Center tonight to take on the Iona College Gaels at 7 pm. The game will also be televised on the NBC Sports Network, the first home TV game for the Patriots this season. Iona comes into the game with a 6-3 record on the season including wins over Wake Forest and Indiana State, but also road losses to Wofford and Monmouth. The Gaels scored 126 points against Delaware State, and haven’t been held under 73 points all season.

Today’s matchup is a return game from last season’s meeting in New Rochelle, NY, a one-sided contest that saw the Patriots fall behind 34-5 on their way to an 89-73 defeat. Sean Armand, who scored 30 that day, is gone, but much of the rest of the offensive firepower returns. If the Patriots are going to come away with a win today, they will have to execute consistently on offense, both in the paint and on the perimeter, and start making free throws with more consistency.

In order to learn a bit more about this season’s edition of the Gaels, I once again asked Jaden Daly, founder of New York City-based A Daly Dose of Hoops, to answer a few questions. What makes forward David Laury (18.3 points, 7.9 rebounds) and guard A.J. English (24.4 points) such an effective duo?

JD: Laury and English are so good because, quite frankly, neither one is the end-all, be-all for Iona’s offense. Either or both of them can, and do, function better as silent assassins while someone like Schadrac Casimir or Isaiah Williams steps up and carries the load. It’s essentially a “pick your poison” game with those two: If you stop one, there’s a good chance the other will burn you and not even make you feel like you’re getting tossed into the fire. Beyond those two stars, who are the players that Mason fans should keep an eye on?

JD: You did me a favor allowing me to mention Schadrac Casimir and Isaiah Williams, and I’ll get to the both of them in detail. Casimir, a freshman shooting guard generously listed at 5-10, is a combination of Nate Robinson and Chaz Williams. He’s already put up a 40-point game against Delaware State, and when he gets on a roll from beyond the arc, he’s impossible to contain. The same can be said of Williams, a 6-7 wing who plays more like a guard. Don’t leave him open in the corners, because he’ll make you pay every time. He reminds me a lot of Ryan Ayers, who used to play at Notre Dame in the late 2000s. Iona is averaging 86 points per game, which is currently ranked fifth in the nation. Is there a formula to slow down that machine?

JD: The best way to stop Iona is to press them. It’s the easiest way to make them struggle. Look at how teams like Hofstra, (yes, that really did happen) Saint Peter’s and Monmouth have been able to beat them over the years. When facing a zone, the Gaels tend to shoot over it all night, and more often than not, it works out for them. But when they have to work for their offense, the tenor of their games changes dramatically. Iona has become known as Transfer U. Why is New Rochelle such an attractive destination for Power 5 transfers, is it the location, the coaches, the allure of playing time, or something else?

JD: It’s a combination of all of them: The close proximity to New York, the system Tim Cluess plays, the relentless and underrated recruiting talent of Jared Grasso, and the chance to be a winner. Cluess takes a lot of heat for taking as many transfers as he does, but not many are as adept at consistently retooling and staying relevant in his league every season. I can’t let you go without asking about fifth-year head coach Tim Cluess. He’s been very successful at Iona, with four straight 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, but at age 55, he’s also not exactly a young coach, and he’s a New York city native. Do you see him staying at Iona long term, or would he be a logical candidate for a promotion in the near future?

JD: Knowing Cluess as long as I have, I feel like he’s at Iona for the long haul. The only place he’d realistically go would be St. John’s, but as the Red Storm continue to win, the less of an issue Steve Lavin’s job security becomes. Not only that, but as a St. John’s alum with a working knowledge of how their administration works, I don’t think they’d want a guy who turns 56 in March, considering every coach they’ve hired since Lou Carnesecca retired was on the south side of 50, in some cases, the south side of 40. Some people thought he was on his way to Hofstra last year, but his buyout prevented that from happening, and with all due respect, Iona to Hofstra seems like a lateral move.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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