Can The Gaels Get It Done? Iona Pulls Tough Draw Against UConn in Round 1

Can The Gaels Get It Done? Iona Pulls Tough Draw Against UConn in Round 1
Image ©John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
✍️ Written by
Frank Weber
🗓 Updated
May 19th 2023

March Madness is finally here, and this year’s bracket is an absolute doozy. If you want to check out the full 2023 March Madness bracket with seeding, you can do so here.

While most pundits are focusing on the big boys, I’m going to take this time to point out a small, New York college that might have what it takes to pull off an upset. That’s right, I’ll be looking at the 13 seed Iona Gaels, who will be taking on the 4 seed, UConn, in round one of the West Region.

Iona’s matchup against the Huskies will happen this Friday, March 17th, at 4:30 PM EST on TBS. The Huskies are 9.5-point favorites right now, with Vegas giving Iona +365 odds to pull off the upset (according to DraftKings Sportsbook).

But is there more to this game than meets the eye? Let’s take a look.

Who Are The Iona Gaels?

Unless you’re a diehard NCAA basketball fan or a Westchester resident (like myself) then you’ve probably never heard of Iona College. It’s a small private college located in New Rochelle, New York, which is only a mere 30-minute train ride to Grand Central Station in Manhattan.

This will be their 16th appearance in March Madness and their first since 2021. They’ve only made it past the first round once, though, and you’ve got to go all the way back to 1980 in order to watch that take place.

The coach of the Gaels in that 1980 season was this small, nobody who you’ve probably never heard of–just this Italian coach with a funny name…Jim Valvano?

Yep, that’s right. Before Valvano’s reign at NC State, he coached at Iona College from 1975-1980. Valvano brought Iona to their very first March Madness tournament in 1979, as well as the aforementioned second-round game in 1980.

Since Valvano left, Iona has yet to break the 10-seed threshold, and that trend is continuing this year as they landed the 13-seed thanks to their MAC Championship win.

Regardless of their seeding, though, this is the most hype I’ve ever felt revolving around an Iona March Madness appearance. So is the hype worth it?

How Can The Gaels Take Down UConn?

To start, the Gaels' current head coach is this other nobody who you’ve probably never heard of, just this guy named Rick Pitino. Pitino has brought Iona to the big dance for the second time in three years, and for the sixth time since the 2015-16 season.

Iona is currently red-hot winning each of their last 14 games, holding their opponents to 60 or fewer points in nine of them.

So, it’s really not a leap to say that Iona can defend. They ranked eighth in opponent 3-point field goal percentage, and, luckily for them, that’s how the Huskies score a majority of their points.

UConn average 25.1 three-point attempts per game, which is the 39th-highest tally in all of D1 basketball. If Iona can really lock down the perimeter, they can make UConn play a type of game that deviates from their norm.

How Can The Huskies Avoid The Upset?

Let’s say it’s the worst-case scenario and Iona is just shutting down the Huskies behind the arc. They can’t get anything going, and their shooters just seem dead.

Well, luckily for them, they are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. They rank 6th overall in offensive rebounds per game, collecting an average of 13.42 offensive boards per game. They rank first in the nation in offensive rebounding rate, turning offensive boards into second-chance opportunities 39.2% of the time.

Iona, a team that really struggles with height, only collected 24.72 defensive rebounds per game this season, which ranked them at 184th in the nation.

So, at the end of the day, it must be nice for UConn to know that they can at least establish a dominant presence with their front court if their normal three-point offense doesn’t work.

Iona vs UConn Final Prediction

UConn was probably thrilled when they realized they’ll be playing their first game in Albany, NY, which is just a few hours away from home. However, that excitement probably died down quickly once they realized their opponent, Iona, was just as close to the arena as they are.

Home court or not, though, I feel like this Gaels team is going to give the Huskies a tougher game than they could ever expect. I’m not sure I’d take the Gaels moneyline, but those 9.5 points look great.

I expect Iona to keep it close, and could even have a shot at winning toward the end of the game.

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