On Monday night, the Iona Gaels secured their second straight NCAA tournament appearance. This year -- rather than being gifted a totally surprising at-large pass by the selection committee -- they handled things the old-fashioned way, holding on for a 60-57 win over Manhattan in the MAAC conference tournament final. MoMo Jones lives.
If you tuned in to the game, you were witness to a true sartorial treat; if you didn't, you missed out. Iona's coaches, including head coach Tim Cluess, coached the entire game in ... sweatsuits. Minus the Iona lettering and the branding, they're the kind of gear only kids under the age of 10, adults over the age of 65, or supporting Sopranos characters can get away with -- after all, even Bob Huggins has the good sense to put on a pair of pants. So hey! Coach Cluess? What gives?
Tim Cluess and his assistants went with a casual look because it has become a good luck charm.
When the Iona staff first unveiled the jumpsuits on March 1 to raise awareness for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Gaels emerged from a stretch of six losses in seven games by toppling then-first place Loyola (Md.) 90-86. The coaches were mingling with fans at a reception after the game when Iona president Joseph E. Nyre and athletic director Eugene Marshall congratulated them on the win and said, "Guess we're going to continue wearing sweatsuits, right?"
"We were thrilled because we'd rather coach in them anyway," Iona assistant Jared Grasso said. "Our senior night, we beat Siena and they became a superstitious thing for our staff. The whole athletic department, our alums and our boosters have bought in. At this point, I don't think they'll let us wear anything else."
If the unofficial motto of college basketball is "hey, whatever works" then this is its most shining recent example. Since Cluess and his assistants donned their finest Bingo Wednesdays wear, Iona is 5-0, including its final two regular-season games and the three in the MAAC tourney, which earned them that automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Fans have picked up on the trend, wearing similar suits to games, and even two weeks later the whole thing is still raising awareness for cystic fibrosis research, as worthy a cause as there is.
Oh, and it's about to raise a lot more awareness. Grasso told Eisenberg the suits are "staying on until we lose," which means you are now officially prepared to see the most casual, laid back, ready-for-their-morning-power-walk coaching staff in the history of the NCAA tournament. Fresh.