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2019 NCAA tournament bracket projection for Iona Gaels

The Iona Gaels enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams over the last month. The MAAC champ completed a crazy turnaround from a 4-7 start in conference play to cutting down the nets in Albany and grabbing the school's fourth straight tourney title. Can Tim Cluess' guys again defy the odds and pull an upset, despite playing one of the weakest schedules in the field?

ESPN+ has your answers, as Joe Lunardi has enlisted a team of bracketologists to compile advanced metrics, key scouting intel and best- and worst-case tournament scenarios for all 68 teams to help you make smart picks in your bracket.


TOURNEY PROFILE

Best wins: at Rider

Worst losses: Columbia, vs. Holy Cross, at Niagara, at Fairfield, at Marist

Regular season conference finish: 1st, MAAC

Polls and metrics: BPI ranked the Golden Eagles at No. 183 as of March 10, while KenPom had them at No. 199. The NCAA's new NET ranking had Marquette at No. 205 in its most recent release.

All-time tourney record: 1-13

Coach (tourney record): Tim Cluess (0-5)


PERSONNEL

(Note: Player statistics are through games of March 10.)

Starting lineup

F Tajuan Agee (13.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG)
G/F E.J. Crawford (17.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG)
G Rickey McGill (15.5 PPG, 2.3 SPG)
G Asante Gist (12.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
G Ben Perez (8.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG)

Key bench players

Isaiah Still (7.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG)
F Andrija Ristanovic (3.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
F Jahnathan Maxwell (2.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG)

Biggest strength: Iona's staple under Cluess has been its lightning-quick tempo, ability to get out in transition and knock down 3s. The Gaels have quick guards with a knack for getting to the basket and live at the foul line. Twenty-one percent of their points come from the charity stripe, never a bad thing when a free throw can sometimes be the difference between a trip to the next round or a plane ride home.

Biggest weakness: Defense. Iona's fast-paced style of play lends itself to lapses both in the half court and transition. The Gaels rank 274th (out of 353) in D-I in defensive efficiency and struggle to limit the 3-ball. That problem could burn them against a perimeter-heavy opponent. Iona's lack of strength of schedule also presents an issue, as the Gaels' biggest test of the season is likely the next one.

Best player: McGill. The Gaels' most experienced player and first team All-MAAC selection stuffs the stat sheet. McGill uses his speed to break down opposing defenses and is also the Gaels' best distributor. No one on Iona's roster is better at forcing timely turnovers. Don't be surprised if he comes up with one for Cluess at a big moment.

X factor: Agee. A large portion of Iona's offense runs through the wiry forward. Agee can score from almost anywhere on the floor and presents a huge matchup problem for bigs who aren't used to stepping out to defend the perimeter. The Chicago native has never played in the Big Dance, and the consistency he displayed during this 10-game winning streak needs to be there for the Gaels' glass slipper to fit.


SCOUTING REPORT

How they beat you: Iona boasts one of the most balanced lineups in the country. Four players average double figures, led by their lone senior and MAAC tourney MVP McGill. Add in the fact that the Gaels have six legitimate 3-point threats in their lineup and they can be a massive headache for opposing coaches. That type of prowess on offense is tough to match.

How you beat them: Teams that can move the ball effectively around the perimeter have had great success against the Gaels. Iona gives up 38 percent of its points from beyond the arc, among the top 25 for opponents from that range. The ability to consistently allow open looks from the outside makes the Gaels vulnerable everywhere else.


WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

(Note: All statistics in this section are courtesy of kenpom.com and are accurate through games of March 10.)

NATIONAL RANKS

Offensive efficiency, 124th (106.6)
Defensive efficiency, 274th (109.9)
3-point percentage, 137th (35.1)
3-point percentage D, 299th (36.8)
Free throw rate, 65th (37.1)
Free throw rate D, 66th (28.8)
TO percentage, 94th (17.4)
TO percentage D, 166th (18.6)


HOW FAR WILL THEY GO?

Best-case scenario: Second round
It's hard not to look at Iona's offensive balance and think that at least one win isn't possible. The Gaels' experience and ability to spread out their scoring makes them a dangerous proposition for anyone. If the trio of Crawford, McGill and Agee continues to play with the consistency it has displayed during this winning streak, Iona is more than capable of pulling an upset.

Worst-case scenario: One-and-done
The turnaround for the Gaels has been remarkable when you consider where they were in early February. They certainly have enough offense to hang with most teams, but the other end of the floor remains a major Achilles' heel. The opening game will pit Iona against the best offensive team it has seen since nonconference play and most likely will result in a flight back to New Rochelle.