MAAC Basketball Tournament: Can Anyone Stop Iona?

Gaels Huge Favorites to Earn NCAA Tournament Berth

The Iona Gaels are strong favorites to run away with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. It’s hard to picture a different outcome based on what the teams have done so far. Iona cruised to the regular season title with a 17-3 MAAC record. Rider was second in the MAAC NCAAB standings with a 13-7 record. The Gaels aren’t a sure thing, they did lose three conference games, several of them ugly. But the power ratings have the Gaels well in front of the competition.

The tournament will be played at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which is about a 2.5-hour drive from Iona, so the Gaels should have some fans in attendance. The tournament begins Tuesday and games through Thursday will be broadcast on ESPN+. The semifinals on Friday, March 10, will be broadcast on ESPN News, with Saturday’s championship game being aired on ESPNU at 7L30 p.m. ET.

The Favorite

IONAIona Gaels (-200)

In the MAAC Basketball Tournament there’s the Iona Gaels and then there’s the rest of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Sagarin college basketball ratings have the Gaels 8.5 points better than anybody else in the conference. Ken Pomeroy has Iona 11 points better than the next team. They’re that much of a conference powerhouse.

The Gaels easily have the best offensive and defensive efficiency ratings in the conference. Iona is No. 83 on offense. Rider is next best at No. 147. The Gaels are No. 71 on defense, while Siena is second-best with a rating of No. 157. The Gaels aren’t necessarily a great shooting team, but they help themselves by not making turnovers. They’re also fairly solid on the offensive glass. Defensively, the Gaels are solid, ranking No. 10 in 3-point defense and No. 4 in blocked shots. Iona allows a few too many offensive rebounds, but that’s pretty much the team’s lone defensive fault.

The Outsiders

QUINQuinnipiac (+400)

Even though Quinnipiac was tied for third in the conference standings, the Bobcats are second in the MAAC Basketball Tournament odds at +400. The Bobcats are third in the conference in offensive efficiency and fourth in defense. Quinnipiac is a solid 3-point shooting team, ranking No. 49 in the nation. Defensively, the Bobcats may have been a little better than their No. 167 rating. The Bobcats are dinged a little bit in the ratings due to not forcing many turnovers. They are No. 88 in 2-point field goal percentage allowed and No. 45 against the 3-pointer. Still, beating Iona isn’t going to be an easy task for any team in the tournament.

RIDRider Broncs +(800)

The Broncs were second in the regular season standings but are a distant third in the MAAC Basketball Tournament betting odds. The one thing you can say about Rider is it played Iona tough both games. Rider made a furious second-half comeback to stun the Gaels on the road and then lost by two at home in the rematch. Iona imploded from the foul line in the first game and neither team led by more than six points in the second meeting. Rider’s strength is grabbing offensive rebounds, where it’s No. 30 in the nation. The Broncs don’t shoot all that well. Rider does defend the 2-pointer well, but allows 36% from 3-point range.

SIESiena Saints (+1000)

The Saints limped to the end of the regular season, finishing on a five-game losing streak to end up tied for third place in the conference. The big culprit to the losing streak was the offense. The Saints scored 66 of fewer points in four of those five games, scoring 72 in overtime of the other. Offense has been Siena’s weakest link this season. But the losing streak magnified the team’s scoring woes. The Saints aren’t bad defensively, especially by MAAC standards. Siena ranks No. 2 in the conference in defensive efficiency, trailing only Iona. If the Saints make any noise in the tournament it will likely be due to the defense.

Projected Championship Matchup

You have to pencil in Iona to advance to the championship game. They have too much talent not to make it that far, but strange things can happen in college basketball in March. But the Gaels appear to be too good offensively and defensively for the rest of the conference. Iona also gets the most favorable draw, playing the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in its first game.

Quinnipiac has a solid chance of advancing in the other side of the bracket, provided it can get past Rider, who is most likely the Bobcats’ opponent in the semifinals. But right now, it looks like the rest of the conference is playing to see who gets to be runner-up to the Gaels. The number is steep, but if you’re going to play this one, you have to take Iona as one of your college basketball favorites today.
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