Despite MAAC championship setback, Iona makes case for NCAA Tournament
Springfield, Mass. – In the end, from his seat at the postgame conference podium, all Iona’s basketball coach Tim Cluess could do was vouch for his team’s entrance into the NCAA Tournament.
For the second consecutive year, the top-seed team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships fell in the semifinals. Last year, it was St. Peter’s who took down heavily favored and No. 1 seed Fairfield on their home court in Bridgeport, Conn.
This year, MAAC regular season champs Iona fell to the fourth-seed Stags, 85-75, at the MassMutal Center.
The loss leaves Iona with a 25-7 overall record and at minimum, an NIT bid awaits the Gaels. But what dominated the questions afterwards was Iona’s potential inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.Only once since the MAAC was created in 1982 that two teams received bids to the NCAA Tournament in the same year.
In 1995, Manhattan received an at-large bid after losing to St. Peter’s in overtime in the MAAC Championships. The Jaspers entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 13 seed and wound up stunning the No. 4 seed Oklahoma Sooners 77-67 in the first round.
“I believe we deserve it,” Cluess said of a potential NCAA at-large bid. “The schedule we put together; we played eight straight weeks on the road against some very good opponents that are finishing near the top of their conferences and conferences above ours. I don’t think if you get knocked off in a playoff game that everything you did in the regular season should be thrown out the window; we have a very good RPI.”
The RPI is the dreaded three-letter acronym that stands for the Rating Percentage Index. The RPI is a system that ranks teams based on upon a team’s win and losses and its strength of schedule. For the past decade, the RPI has been bantered around by pundits and fans as to its relevancy in measuring teams living on the tourney bubble.
If you go by this year’s RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com, Iona was ranked 38 in the RPI entering its contest against Fairfield. Iona is 1-1 versus the RPI top 50. The win came at home against Nevada, 90-84. Nevada has an RPI of 47. The loss came in their season opener, a 91-90 setback to Big 10’s Purdue in Puerto Rico. The Boilermakers have an RPI of 40.
The loss to Fairfield dropped Iona to 43 in the RPI. With one day left before Selection Sunday, Iona’s RPI stands at 41.
Iona is 6-3 versus the RPI top 100. Another noteworthy out of conference win for Iona came against Maryland, whom the Gaels defeated 89-63 on Nov. 20 in Puerto Rico. But the Terrapins are 16-14 this season and finished the ACC regular season with a 6-10 mark. Their RPI is 98.
“I don’t know too many teams in this league that have played the schedule we’ve played,” Cluess said. “I’m hopeful the NCAA looks at that and rewards us for it.”
Earlier in the week, during a MAAC conference call, Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos stated Iona deserves to be in the NCAAs.
“If Iona does not win our tournament, Iona deserves an at-large bid,” said Patsos, whose team split a pair of games with Iona and was the No. 2 seed in the MAAC Championships. Cluess took it a step further after the loss to Fairfield.
“If you are going to pick eight or nine teams from the Big East, I think that’s nonsense,” Cluess said. “Those teams aren’t as good as we are. The top teams, yes. But not the seventh, eighth, or ninth place teams. Not this year.”
Senior star forward Mike Glover, who finished with 19 points and eight rebounds against Fairfield, kept it simple when asked about his team’s inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.
“Absolutely,” Glover said.
After Loyola won the MAAC championships Monday night over Fairfield, Patsos reiterated what he said on last week’s conference call.
“I think Iona deserves a 15th seed,” Patsos said. “The thing in our league is we will play anybody. We were down at one point by four to Kentucky in the second half when we played them; I got a text from (Kentucky coach) John Calipari saying we were the best mid-major team they played.”
There in lies the rub, Iona took the same approach Loyola did and scheduled to the best they could.
One team, Atlantic 10’s St. Joseph’s, a team also tethering on the bubble, actually came to the Hynes Center for a game against the Gaels in late November. St. Joe’s lost to Iona, 104-99, in double overtime. Patsos continued in his defense of Iona and didn’t hold back, even going after ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the channel’s resident tournament bracket guru.
“I thought about it,” Patsos said. “Iona deserves to go (to the NCAA Tournament). They have 25 wins. They didn’t back down.
“Tell Joe Lunardi – all he talks about is scheduling. Well, they went and played everybody and they beat everybody. And they got two NBA players on the team.”
If Iona would’ve made the MAAC championships, it would’ve had a case like Manhattan did in 1995. But now, all Iona can do on Selection Sunday is bite their fingernails along with the other bubble teams.