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As Local Big East Schools Watch From the Sidelines, Iona & LIU Are Repping New York in The Dance
The New York metropolitan area will be represented in the NCAA Tournament by a couple of overachievers from mid-major conferences.
The Big Apple and its surrounding area won’t be repped by Big East schools like St. John’s, Seton Hall or Rutgers, but by Iona and LIU-Brooklyn instead. (We’re not counting Syracuse, which is located in upstate New York.)
“I think [we’re] a team that epitomizes New York,” LIU coach Jim Ferry told the New York Post. “For one, it’s a bit of a melting pot. I think we have kids from all over the country, that’s really blended well together. It’s a group of kids that really sacrifice for one another.
“They’re tough-minded, they’re hard-nosed, they respect everybody, but at the same time they don’t fear anybody. And I think that symbolizes what New York’s about.”
LIU (25-8), which won the Northeast Conference tournament championship for the second straight season, was disappointed to receive a No. 16 seed and will face No. 1 Michigan State (27-7) Friday in a West Region second-round game in Columbus, Ohio.
Iona, meantime, was the surprise pick of the Big Dance and will face BYU Tuesday night in a Midwest Region play-in game in Dayton, Ohio (9:10 p.m., truTV).
“Our goal is to win: Win the first game we have and then if we’re fortunate enough to do that then our goal will be to win the next one that comes after that,” Iona coach Tim Cluess told reporters, according to the Post. “We’re not just going to visit. We’re going to try to win.”
Iona and LIU happen too rank first and third, respectively, in scoring average among teams in the Big Dance. Fueled by point guard Scott Machado, profiled in this report by Tommy Dee of SheridanHoops.com, the Gaels are averaging 83.3 points per game, tops in the tournament.
North Carolina averages 82.3 points a game, and then comes LIU at 81.9.
Still, that didn’t stop Kentucky coach John Calipari from taking a shot at Iona Monday on a conference call.
“I don’t know how Iona gets in instead of Drexel,” Calipari said.
That should make for some interesting storylines in Louisville should Iona advance to play Marquette there on Thursday.
Kentucky is also in Louisville, playing a second-round South Region game against the Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky winner.
Cluess has already taken on the Big East coaches with his eyebrow-raising comments following his team’s loss to Fairfield in the MAAC Tournament semifinals.
“If you’re going to pick eight or nine teams out of the Big East, that’s nonsense,” Cluess said then. “Those teams aren’t as good as we are.”
Turned out, the NCAA Selection Committee agreed with Cluess, picking the Gaels over Seton Hall, Washington, Drexel and others.
While Iona competes in the NCAAs on Tuesday, Seton Hall will be hosting an NIT game at Walsh Gym on campus.
Losses to Rutgers and DePaul to end the Big East regular season probably sealed the fate of the Pirates, who haven’t gone dancing since 2006.
That’s not anywhere near as long as Rutgers, which hasn’t qualified for the NCAAs since 1991.
St. John’s went a year ago in Steve Lavin’s first year, but are now hoping to rebuild going forward in hopes of getting back.
Lavin, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard and Rutgers coach Mike Rice all took over their programs in 2010 and are still building their brands, hoping to make the top half of the brutal Big East.
“It’s cyclical,” Lavin told SNY.tv. “Like USC and UCLA not being in the NCAA Tournament but Long Beach State made the field of 68.
“Rutgers, St. John’s and Seton Hall are all in the process of rebuilding. It’s three coaches who inherited programs in 2010. It takes three years to establish a winning culture on all fronts. You have to secure talent through signing high-level prospects and then having enough time for player development.”
Of course, Cluess also took over at Iona in 2010 after Willard left for Seton Hall. He inherited a team that had talented, experienced players including Machado.
Then the Gaels added junior college forward Mike Glover and Arizona transfer Lamont “Momo” Jones, who is returning to the dance one year after helping the Wildcats get to the Elite Eight.
“We’ll get as far as Iona wants to get,” Jones told the Post. “If that’s to the championship game, if that’s to the Sweet 16, so be it. But we’re not counting on everybody to put us in their brackets, because nobody had us in the tournament.”
Now they are.
And so is LIU.
And they are the schools repping New York during March Madness.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.