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Monday, October 7, 2013
You Gotta See This: MAAC

By Eamonn Brennan

Sean Armand
Sean Armand and another group of talented high-major transfers have Iona at the top of the MAAC again, gunning for a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Iona's transfers keep moving forward.

The 2011-12 preseason was one of the most exciting in Iona basketball history. Star point guard Scott Machado and NBA-prospect forward Mike Glover were both back, and sophomore Sean Armand would provide perimeter shooting from the wing. By any mid-major's standards, that would have been exciting enough. But there was more.

Just a few months after leading Arizona over No. 1-seeded Duke in the 2011 Sweet 16, Lamont "MoMo" Jones transferred out of Tucson and home to Iona, where he could, because of an ill grandmother, play right away. One of the best point guards in the nation, a bouncy forward, lights-out shooting and a volume-scoring backcourt star fresh off an Elite Eight? What more could a MAAC team ask for?

That Iona team was disappointing. The Gaels still won the MAAC, but lost to Purdue, Hofstra and Marshall in the nonconference, and fell to Fairfield in the MAAC tournament. They ended up needing a somewhat surprising nod from the selection committee to sneak in to the First Four in Dayton, where they lost to BYU. In 2012-13, with Machado and Glover gone, Jones and Armand ran Iona's combination of efficient offense and soft defense. It was good enough for a MAAC title and a No. 15 seed, but not enough to keep things close in the tournament against Ohio State. The Gaels finished 20-15.

In that context, the transition to 2013-14 could carry the stench of missed opportunity. Machado, who was the NCAA assists leader in his senior season, was a once-in-a-decade player in the MAAC. Glover was unnaturally athletic. Jones was a rare "down-transfer" in a world of players moving the opposite direction, and he was around for two years. When is Iona going to have talent like that again?

Not so long, it turns out. Iona coach Tim Cluess has done as well as any mid-major coach in the country at finding transfers -- specifically those from high-major schools -- in time to keep his program near the top of the MAAC, and this season will be no exception. Rutgers transfer Mike Poole will start immediately and should be an impact player, and former Iowa State point guard Tavon Sledge -- who received offers from St. John's, West Virginia and UTEP as a prep prospect -- will push the pace.

Will that be enough? The MAAC always offers solid basketball made more attractive by its entertainment value, and that's what the Gaels have done best in recent seasons. If they guard even marginally better than last season, and Armand and former juco transfer David Laury repeat last season's output, Iona is a favorite to attend three straight NCAA tournaments for the first time in school history. Who could be disappointed in that?