Here are three things to watch for when Iona (19-13, 11-7 MAAC) plays Manhattan (14-17, 9-9 MAAC) on Monday night in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game.
Tip-off is at 9 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass., and you can watch the game on ESPN2.
SURPRISE! The No. 4 seed in the MAAC tourney faces the the No. 6 seed, with a coveted NCAA tournament berth on the line. Iona knocked off No. 5 seed Canisius (by four) and No. 1 seed Niagra (by six) to reach the title game. Manhattan topped No. 3 seed Loyola (by three) and No. 7 seed Fairfield (by 18) to get there.
These two teams are archrivals -- the two campuses are separated by just nine miles. But this is the first time they've met in the conference championship game.
Iona and Manhattan split their season series this year, each victorious on its home floor. Iona won 78-70 on Jan. 6, and Manhattan won 74-73 in double overtime on Feb. 15.
THE GAELS: Iona, under third-year coach Tim Cluess, is on the verge of its second consecutive Big Dance. The Gaels made it as an at-large team a year ago, but lost to BYU in a play-in game in Dayton, 78-72. Iona had a 25-point lead in the first half; BYU's comeback was the biggest in NCAA tournament history.
Senior guard Lamont "Momo" Jones was named the MAAC Player of the Year and is the second-leading scorer in all of Division I (23.3 ppg). Junior guard Sean Armand is second on the team in scoring (16.9 ppg) and a lethal 3-point shooter -- he attempts 8.1 treys per game, and makes 41.3 percent. Sophomore forward David Laury averages a double-double (13.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg).
Iona likes to push the pace, to say the least. The Gaels are second in the country in scoring (81.3 ppg) and fourth in free-throw percentage (77.6). But they are among the worst defensive teams in Division I -- 331st (out of 345) in scoring defense (76.2 ppg) and 276th in defensive field-goal percentage (45.0).
THE JASPERS: Manhattan, under second-year coach Steve Masiello -- a Rick Pitino protégé -- is seeking its first Big Dance bid since 2004. The Jaspers were picked to finish second to Loyola in the preseason -- one spot ahead of Iona -- but they lost leading scorer George Beamon to injury after just four games. They started the season 5-14, but have now won eight of their last 10.
Junior forward Rhamel Brown is Manhattan's current leading scorer and rebounder (11.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg). He is also ninth in the country in blocked shots per game (3.0) and was named the MAAC's Defensive Player of the Year. Junior guard Michael Alvarado is second on the team in scoring (8.2 ppg), and sophomore forward Emmy Andujar does a little bit of everything (8.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.5 apg).
You'd be hard-pressed to find two teams with more contrasting styles. Manhattan is 334th in Division I in scoring offense (58.3 ppg) and 287th in offensive field-goal percentage (40.8). But the Jaspers are 43rd in scoring defense (60.8 ppg) and 74th in field-goal percentage defense (40.6).