Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Iona and Manhattan may both be capable of winning a few games in the NCAA Tournament this year, but it’s likely that only one of them will get to Dance.
The MAAC has historically been a one-bid league, and first-year Manhattan coach Steve Masiello doesn’t see that changing this March.
“Don’t get me wrong, the regular season matters and the seeding matters and you want to win the conference,” Masiello, whose team hosts Iona Saturday night, told SNY.tv Friday by phone. “But it all comes down to what you do on March 2-5.”
The MAAC Tournament actually runs March 1-5 in Springfield, Mass., but the top six seeds get a bye.
Entering Saturday’s tilt, Iona and Manhattan are tied atop the league at 10-2, although the Jaspers actually hold the tiebreak edge by virtue of their 75-72 victory Jan. 12 at Iona that prompted a hug from former Seton Hall and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez.
Loyola is not far behind at 9-2.
Manhattan (17-7) has won eight straight games, catapulting Masiello, the former Rick Pitino assistant, into Coach of the Year consideration. Iona (18-5) has won three in a row.
“I just think for a team like us who was picked eighth to even be in the conversation with Iona in February is a great, great situation to be in,” Masiello said. “It’s really a win-win.
“Obviously, Iona being picked first is the cream of the crop of the conference…But for us to be in this conversation at this point in the year, we’re just having fun with it.”
Iona is coming off a 105-86 victory over Canisius Thursday in which Arizona transfer Lamont “Momo” Jones poured in 43 points, a Hynes Center record.
“They have to be in the conversation for one of the best backcourts in the country, with Momo and Scott [Machado],” Masiello said. “I think Scott is the best point guard in the country and Momo is starting to hit his stride. He had 25 against Loyola and now he has 43…so I think he’s kind of getting in rhythm.”
Machado, who had 14 points and 14 assists in the Canisius game, leads Division 1 in assists at 10.0 per game and recently got glasses, which should improve his vision.
He is one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard.
Iona’s Mike Glover, the Preseason MAAC Player of the Year, leads the league in scoring at 18.5 points per game, but Manhattan junior guard George Beamon is second at 17.4 points a game.
“I put him up there as one of the best scorers in the New York area, really can score the ball with anyone,” Masiello said of Beamon.
Asked if people were sleeping on his players, Masiello said, “I think they are but in fairness I don’t think you get recognized until you win. And Iona’s already done that. They’ve already won and now we’re starting to do that.
“So you take Mike Alvarado, who’s only a sophomore and is having a terrific year, and I think when Scott kind of leaves this conference, I could see Mike as a guy taking the torch next year trying to be that guy. I think he then turns into the premier point guard in this conference. He’s 6-3, he’s strong, he’s got a pass-first mentality.”
A year ago, Fairfield won the MAAC regular season title, but St. Peter’s ended up capturing the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Now, as many as four teams could capture this year’s bid — Iona, Manhattan, Fairfield and Loyola.
“It comes down to a three-game deal in March,” Masiello said. “I think any [one of] four teams in a tournament setting could be a very tough out.”
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.