Killian is dancing!
In a battle between schools separated by the length of approximately 500 basketball courts, the Iona Gaels beat Manhattan last night to win the MAAC Tournament and earn the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. Iona coach Tim Cluess said after the game he would enjoy Selection Sunday a lot more this year—last season the Gaels got an at-large bid, but Cluess was a nervous wreck until Iona’s name was called.
You might think the Gaels are eager to redeem themselves on the sport’s biggest stage after their record-setting collapse in the play-in round against BYU last year, but they’re playing for something much more important: the memory of a fallen teammate. Mike Haynes, a Chicago recruit headed for Iona last fall, was shot dead in July. Iona’s players dedicated this season to his memory and have worn patches on their jerseys to honor him.
“Every single day, every single set,” said shooting guard Sean Armand when asked how often he and his teammates thought about Haynes. “In timeouts, we’ll say, ‘Five more seconds left, three more seconds, look at the patch on your shoulder.’ The last timeout I said, ‘This is it, this is for Mike.’”
For much of the season, Iona looked like a team carrying too heavy a burden—their seven MAAC losses came by a total of 17 points and they blew a lot of late leads. But they played fast and loose in Springfield, beating high-scoring Canisius, top seed Niagara, and defensive-minded Manhattan to win the title.
This team, like last year, is capable of lighting up the scoreboard—KenPom ranks the Iona offense 20th best in the country—and taking down a higher seed (even as, potentially, a 14 seed).
I was in Springfield for the games on Saturday and Sunday. For the second straight year I made the drive with my dad to the MassMutual Center (the MAAC presidents voted on a neutral site for the tournament, despite better crowds in Albany). I wrote a “Five Things” column recapping the MAAC Tournament weekend, which appeared on all 25 of the CBS Local sites.
I also wrote a feature on Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. Mihalich has the most wins of any coach in MAAC history and was named the conference’s Coach of the Year this season for the third time. Instead of moving on to a bigger and better job, he has remained at Niagara, a small school near Buffalo. Read the story if you’re interested in learning why a successful coach would stay put at a mid-major for 15 years.
As a reminder, I always welcome feedback on my articles. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or use the comments section if you prefer); I’d love to hear from you.
Coming up, expect some more college basketball content, as I’ve been credentialed to cover the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. I’m very excited about this and welcome any story suggestions you may have.
Thanks for reading.