Category archive: Iona Gaels

Lamont Jones' impact on Iona will be felt throughout the remainder of the regular season and into March.

The Arizona transfer reached the Elite Eight with the Wildcats last season. If he can put that experience to use in March, he'll have delivered on the excitement and expectations that greeted his arrival from Tucson.

The Gaels, who are tied atop the MAAC with Loyola (Md.) and Manhattan, are a trendy pick to win the conference tournament in Springfield, Mass., and possibly a game in the NCAA tournament.

With a collection of scrappy guards, they're a difficult matchup for opposing teams, led by arguably one of the top three point guards in the country in Scott Machado, who leads the country in assists.

Iona coach Tim Cluess, speaking after the Gaels' 71-62 win at Fairfield on Friday night, said he's starting to see the impact Jones can have on the team. His consistency has been lacking at times, but he's getting into the lane and making shots.

"He has to bring it every day," Cluess said. "That's the biggest struggle for him. It was easier at Arizona with the schools they were playing."

For his part, Jones understands what a team needs to do to win at a high level.

"Last year [at Arizona], we had a team that played together where nobody cared who scored," Jones said. "We just wanted to win. We have to get to a point where we're happy how we're playing."

The Gaels will look to push the basketball as much as possible. Machado has tremendous court vision and sets up his teammates well, in the half court and in transition.

Jones is a complement who can allow Machado to play off the ball at times. The rotation of Jermel Jenkins, Ra'Shad James, Sean Armand, Randy Dezouvre gives the Gaels plenty of options on the perimeter. Of course, if this team is going to make the NCAA tournament, Taaj Ridley has to rebound and Mike Glover has to be a consistent presence in the post and avoid foul trouble.

Strong guard play and several upperclassmen give Iona the perfect mix to be a team from outside the "power six" to make a run in the tournament.

"Guards play an important role; guards run the tournament," Jones said. "Guards do everything, and we've got to go in with a chip on our shoulder. Our backcourt has to be cohesive. We're the motor to this team."

Machado, who will soon start wearing contacts after noticing his vision wasn't clear, said he has leaned on Jones quite a bit.

"I wanted to know what it was like," Machado said of taking a team deep in the NCAAs. "We need him to come in here with his leadership to help me lead this team. What he did for that run in Arizona … I'm learning from him. And we're learning from each other.

"We have the pieces to be one helluva team."

The Gaels do have limitations, and a bigger, taller team could be a major concern. They've also had their slip-ups in the MAAC, losing at home to Manhattan and at Siena. Furthermore, Iona lost to Hofstra, one of the worst teams in the CAA this season. And none of its wins so far this season is going to wow you, even if some of the names sound good (Maryland, Richmond, LIU, Saint Joseph's).

But the Gaels have the capability to be troublemakers in March.

College basketball could use a Heisman-like award, one main honor instead of the five mainstream national awards.

The problem is that finding a consensus for the Wooden, Naismith, AP, Rupp and Oscar Robertson honors is no easy task.

The awards voters do tend to coalesce behind one candidate. And maybe that will be the case again.

But it seems that this season's race will be as wide open as ever. If you need more evidence, take a look at the 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, released on ESPNU and ESPN.com on Tuesday.

It appears that the only two players who are consensus candidates are Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Creighton's Doug McDermott. It's not a reach to say these two players are the favorites in mid-January, a stunning development considering how much preseason hype Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes received. The amazing part thus far is that I don't believe Sullinger nor Barnes would be a first-team All-American if the voting were conducted today.

Before we get to the list of players compiled by the Wooden folks, it's important to note that these are simply the 25 players who they felt should be honored on their midseason list. Players who do not show up are still very much eligible to win the Wooden Award at the end of the season and will be given equal consideration.

So players who have legitimate claims to being on this list -- Maryland's Terrell Stoglin and Seton Hall teammates Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore come to mind -- still have a shot.

So without further ado, here are the 25 Wooden finalists (in alphabetical order):

Harrison Barnes, 6-foot-8, So., F, North Carolina
Stat line: 16.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg

Chances: Fading. Still has a shot to be a second-team All-American. Barnes hasn't been the dominating player on the Tar Heels. To be fair, he has some of the best talent in the country (John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall) surrounding him. UNC's 33-point loss to Florida State didn't help his case, either.

Will Barton, 6-6, So., F, Memphis
Stat line: 18.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg

Chances: No shot. He could be the Conference USA Player of the Year, though. Barton has greatly improved and has been the most consistent player during the Tigers' inconsistent season.

William Buford, 6-6, Sr., G, Ohio State
Stat line: 15.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Chances: No shot. Buford won't win Big Ten POY, either. He has been OSU's best perimeter threat, but he won't be a first-team All-American. Buford might not even be first-team All-Big Ten. He is an integral part of the Buckeyes' title hopes, but is not a POY contender.

Anthony Davis, 6-10, Fr., C, Kentucky
Stat line: 13.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.6 bpg

Chances: High. Davis has been the most dominant post player in the country. He blocked a last-second shot by North Carolina's John Henson in December, preventing the Tar Heels from winning a game at Rupp. He alters and changes more shots than any other player. If the Wildcats win the national title, Davis will be one of the reasons why. He would be ahead of Ohio State's Jared Sullinger on the All-America ballot if you had to choose one of them.

Marcus Denmon, 6-3, Sr., G, Missouri
Stat line: 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Chances: Not great. Denmon is the leading scorer for Mizzou. But it's hard to separate him from Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Michael Dixon and Flip Pressey in his importance to the Tigers. They all have played an equal role in Missouri's impressive start. It will be interesting to see which of these players earns first-team All-Big 12.

Draymond Green, 6-7, Sr., F, Michigan State
Stat line: 15.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg

Chances: In the mix. If he continues his current pace of scoring and rebounding, Green could end up nudging out Sullinger for Big Ten Player of the Year. The Spartans did lose at Northwestern on Saturday, but Green has been a tremendous leader. He will stay in the chase for a first-team All-American spot if his team stays in the race for the Big Ten title.

John Henson, 6-11, Jr., C, North Carolina
Stat line: 14.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg

Chances: No shot. Henson didn't convert the biggest shot of his season against Kentucky. Davis blocked it. And if Barnes isn't the national player of the year, Henson isn't either. The 33-point loss to Florida State will haunt all Tar Heels candidates.

John Jenkins, 6-4, Jr., G, Vanderbilt
Stat line: 19.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Chances: No shot. Jenkins is a superb shooter and scorer and is leading the revitalized Commodores. But his role isn't more important than Jeffery Taylor, Brad Tinsley or Festus Ezeli -- it is equally important. The 'Dores mid-nonconference slide hurts Jenkins' campaign. The success of the Kentucky freshmen also makes it almost impossible for Jenkins to get SEC Player of the Year.

Orlando Johnson, 6-5, Sr., G, UCSB
Stat line: 20.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg

Chances: No shot. Johnson is having a stellar season for the Gauchos, and he may be one of the higher draft picks on this list. But the Gauchos are 8-6 and are trailing Long Beach State in the Big West. Johnson should be an All-American, but he won't make the first team.

Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-2, Sr., G, Marquette
Stat line: 18.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Chances: No shot. DJO has had a superb season for the Golden Eagles. He has a legit shot at Big East Player of the Year. But that won't be enough to get a first-team All-American spot or the national POY. Marquette has been decent, but not great enough for DJO to stand out on that pedestal.

Kevin Jones, 6-8, Sr., F, West Virginia
Stat line: 20.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg

Chances: Decent. Jones has put it all together as a senior and has put up just a monster season for the Mountaineers. Just seems like it's double-double after double-double for Jones, who will need to keep the Mountaineers in the top 3 of the Big East in order to stay in Wooden contention.

Perry Jones III, 6-11, So., C, Baylor
Stat line: 14.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg

Chances: No shot at player of the year, but he is in the hunt for a first-team All-American slot. The problem for Jones' candidacy is that Quincy Acy has been a comparable inside scorer and guard Pierre Jackson has been an integral member of this team. Jones didn't help his case when he and the Bears were dominated by Kansas' Thomas Robinson in a loss on Monday night. But he can't win national POY if he isn't the Big 12 Player of the Year. And Robinson is the favorite for that honor.

Kris Joseph, 6-7, Sr., F, Syracuse
Stat line: 13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Chances: No shot. Joseph is leading the Orange, but this team is so deep, so talented and so balanced that you would have a hard time picking just him. Dion Waiters may be Syracuse's MVP. A number of other players have taken turns being the star for the Orange, too.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 6-7, Fr., F, Kentucky
Stat line: 13.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 49.4 FG percentage

Chances: Solid. Kidd-Gilchrist could be the SEC Player of the Year. And if he gets that honor, he'll be in contention for the national POY. Kidd-Gilchrist took a few games to get going, but once he did he was an offensive force. He has delivered on his talent and effort.

Jeremy Lamb, 6-5, So., G, Connecticut
Stat line: 17.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Chances: No shot. Lamb is leading the Huskies in scoring. But UConn is still finding its way in the Big East. The Huskies haven't featured Lamb as much, either. Andre Drummond may end up being the team's featured scorer by season's end. Lamb isn't the Big East Player of the Year right now, so he isn't winning the national honor.

Damian Lillard, 6-3, Jr., G, Weber State
Stat line: 25.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.5 apg

Chances: He won't win national POY, but he should be in contention for second-team All-American honors. Lillard is having a stellar season for the Wildcats, who are in first place in the Big Sky. He leads the nation in scoring and his stat line is as good as any in the country. The problem is that Weber has been in obscurity so far this season. Lillard will likely not be seen by the masses until March.

Doug McDermott, 6-7, So., F, Creighton
Stat line: 24.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 62.1 FG

Chances: High. McDermott has been one of the most complete players in the country and is a first-team All-American, at the very least. He could be this season's Jimmer Fredette, coming from outside a power six conference to win the national player of the year honor. McDermott has led the Bluejays to the top of the Missouri Valley and into the Top 25. He is the focus of every opposing defense, too.

Scott Machado, 6-1, Sr., G, Iona
Stat line: 13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 10.3 apg

Chances: Not happening for POY, but he's in the hunt as a first-team All-American. Machado has been the most dominant point guard this season and easily leads the country in assists. Iona has played a decent schedule and is the team to beat in the MAAC. Few teams will want to face the Gaels in March, and Machado is one of the key reasons why.

Kendall Marshall, 6-4, So., G, North Carolina
Stat line: 5.8 ppg, 9.6 apg

Chances: No shot. Marshall is a key for the Tar Heels. He hasn't been the best point guard in the country, but has been a solid contributor this season and does rank second behind Machado in assists. But that isn't enough to win the award or be a first-team candidate.

Mike Moser, 6-8, So., F, UNLV
Stat line: 13.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg

Chances: No shot. But Moser has to be in contention for a first- or second-team All-American spot. His rebounding has been epic (especially against North Carolina). Moser and fellow UCLA transfer Chace Stanback have been the major reasons the Runnin' Rebels are ranked and in contention for the MWC title.

Arnett Moultrie, 6-11, Jr., C, Mississippi State
Stat line: 16.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 0.9 bpg

Chances: Not good for POY, but he's a serious candidate for first-team All-American. Outside of Moser, Moultrie has had the most impact of any transfer. He has increased MSU's chances of being a serious threat to Kentucky in the SEC. Moultrie is a double-double machine for coach Rick Stansbury and has allowed the Bulldogs to avoid relying only on Renardo Sidney.

Thomas Robinson, 6-9, Jr., F, Kansas
Stat line: 17.8 ppg, 12.3 rpg

Chances: High. Robinson is the POY favorite at this juncture. He should be a consensus first-team All-American. He has had to take on immense responsibility with the departure of the Morris twins and has responded without a hitch. He carries the weight of the incredible burden of losing his mother during last season. And yet he is as focused as ever in 2011-12. Robinson dominated in the rout over Baylor on Monday night with 27 points and 14 rebounds.

Mike Scott, 6-8, Sr., F, Virginia
Stat line: 16.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg

Chances: He has no shot for national POY, but Scott is one of the favorites for ACC Player of the Year. He has been the most consistent big man in the league. Take Scott off the Cavs, and they don't come close to the top of the league standings. But Virginia did lose at Duke and also fell to TCU. Scott will have to keep the Cavs in the ACC's top three to have a chance at the league's POY.

Jared Sullinger, 6-9, So., F, Ohio State
Stat line: 17.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg

Chances: Still strong. Sullinger has been battling injuries (back, foot) and missed the road game at Kansas in December. That's part of the reason he is not the favorite right now. Sullinger still has plenty of time to be a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year. But it would help if he had some dominating performances down the stretch.

Cody Zeller, 6-11, Fr., C, Indiana
Stat line: 14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg

Chances: No shot. But Zeller is in the chase for Big Ten Player of the Year. At the very least, he'll be the Big Ten Rookie of the Year. It's amazing that he's on this list and his older brother Tyler (a senior at North Carolina) is not. Cody has helped transform Indiana into a national player, but the Hoosiers' recent two-game skid does take his chances for Big Ten POY down a peg.

My midseason All-America team choices:
First team: Robinson, McDermott, Davis, Moultrie, Machado
Second team: Kidd-Gilchrist, Sullinger, Green, K. Jones, C. Zeller

Quick hitters for this Wednesday afternoon:

• A high-level NCAA source said there will be discussion at the presidential level within the membership of closing the gap of full cost of attendance for student-athletes. That gap is estimated at $2,000 to $5,000 a year.

But the source said that's likely as far as any pay-for-play would go. He added that the full cost of attendance won't be universal, but rather along conference lines. If the Big Ten or SEC choose to do so, then it would once the legislation is cleared. But if the Ivy League or NEC decided against such a move, they wouldn't have to participate.

The other issue that could complicate things is the potential deficit reduction that could affect Pell Grants and other federal money. Those cost of attendance gaps have been aided by the addition of grants. The discussion at the presidential level will be the financial need of those who require assistance.

The source said the discussion has been strong and vibrant, but to assume that the movement is headed toward a true pay-for-play system would be naive. "It's not going there,'' said the source.

• Kentucky coach John Calipari said Tuesday night that Jon Hood may need to redshirt after suffering a torn ACL in a pickup game Monday. "We'll see how it goes,'' he said. "It's a possibility. It might help him.'' Calipari said that having Hood work out against the loaded incoming recruiting class will help him in the long run if he sits out this season.

• Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Festus Ezeli (knee) and Steve Tchiengang (ankle) had minor surgery and both are expected to be cleared to go full speed when school starts late next month.

• Iona is the preseason favorite to win the MAAC, and head coach Tim Cluess is doing what he can to strengthen the schedule. The Gaels are in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (with Alabama, Purdue, Temple, Wichita State, Maryland and Colorado), will head to dangerous Marshall and possibly Arkansas, and will play Tulane at Madison Square Garden. The Gaels will also hit the road for games at William & Mary and Hofstra. The only "marquee" home game is Saint Joseph's. Iona, like a number of mid-major schools, has a hard time finding home games.

• According to Cluess, Iona won't know until the fall if Arizona transfer Momo Jones will be eligible to play this season. Cluess said the paperwork is in and Jones is attempting to become eligible immediately through a waiver because of an ill grandmother. Jones would potentially join Scott Machado and Michael Glover in what could be a seriously loaded MAAC team.

• Long Island University is the favorite to repeat as NEC champs yet coach Jim Ferry couldn't get a decent slate of games. The Blackbirds will play 11 of their first 12 games away from home with matchups at Hofstra, at Old Dominion and at Penn State, followed by neutral-site games against Radford then either Vermont or Marist, then at Iona, at home against Wagner in a league game, at Mount Saint Mary's, at Lafayette, at Columbia and at Norfolk State. This isn't a schedule that will get the Blackbirds an at-large berth obviously since the NEC never produces one. But it proves yet again how difficult it is for even quality teams at a lower-level to simply play at home prior to conference play.

• Xavier got great news when it learned that Vanderbilt transfer Andre Walker will be eligible immediately for his last season. Walker was a solid change of pace player for the Commodores in the 15 games he played for them last season. Walker will be a solid backup to Tu Holloway, if not a side partner. Holloway chose to bypass the World University Games team this summer heading off to China so he could focus on playing with his teammates and going to school.

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