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March 13, 2012BYU (25-8, 12-4) faces the Iona Gaels (25-7, 15-3) in a play-in or "First Four" game in the NCAA Tournament tonight night at 9 pm ET in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will advance to face Marquette of the Big East, the No. 3 seed in the West, in Louisville on Thursday.
The Gaels were the regular season champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and are one of two teams from the MAAC to receive a bid to the Big Dance. Loyola (MD) won the conference tournament to secure the automatic bid from the MAAC. The Gaels were stunned by Fairfield 85-75 in the semifinals after Iona defeated the Staggs twice during the regular season.
Iona is coached by Tim Cluess who is in his second season with the Gaels. Cluess likes to play an up-tempo style, which is one of the reasons his team leads the nation in scoring with an 83.3 point per game average. The Gaels also lead the country in assists (19.3) and assists-to-turnover margin (1.56). The high number of assists is the main reason Iona is also second in the country in field goal shooting at 50.4 percent.
Senior point guard Scott Machado (6-1, 180 Sr.) is the leading assist man in the country averaging 10 dishes per game. Machado also averages 13.6 points per outing and is listed on multiple NBA mock drafts boards as a potential second round pick in the 2012 draft.
Joining Machado on the Iona guard line is Sean Armand (6-3, 190 So.) and Arizona transfer Lamont "MoMo" Jones (6-0, 196 Jr.). Armand leads a very good three-point shooting team by hitting nearly 47 percent from the arc. Jones is a player that the Cougars have seen before. He scored 20 points against BYU last season in the Cougars' 87-65 win over the Wildcats in Energy Solutions Arena.
The leading scorer and rebounder for the Gaels is forward Mike Grover (6-7, 215 Sr.), who played his junior college ball at the College of Eastern Utah. Grover is a strong player who really knows how to use his body effectively in the paint. He has hit an amazing 64 percent of his shots from the floor this year and averages 18.4 points and nine rebounds per game.
BYU's perimeter defense, a sore spot in several games this season, will be tested by Iona's three-guard attack. Much as BYU does, the Gaels will push the ball offensively, even after makes by the opposing team. Dave Rose has emphasized the importance of getting back in transition defense in preparation for this game and expects the Cougars will get a good dose of its own medicine tonight.
The Cougars will likely to try to slow down the nation's top scoring team by employing their matchup zone defense. BYU has been effective with the zone against most teams; however top-flight point guards like Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary's and Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga have given the zone fits by their ability to aggressively attack it. Will the Cougars fair better against another great point guard in Machado?
Few teams in the country share the ball better than Iona. The Gaels are one of the best at getting their guys an open look at the bucket, with Machado as the orchestrator of it all.
The senior can penetrate and get to the rim as well has hit the three. Add to his talents four or five other guys on the roster who can hit from the outside, to go along with Grover's game on the inside, and you get an understanding of why Iona leads the nation in scoring.
The Cougars must get a solid defensive effort from its guard line in the zone tonight. If they cannot contain the Iona backcourt players and they are able to break down the zone, it could be a long evening for the Cougar defense.
BYU does not have the quickness to stay with the Machado and company one-on-one on the perimeter, so playing a lot of man-to-man is probably not going to be an option for Rose.
It's a good bet that Cougar freshman guard Anson Winder will see significant minutes in this game. He is a better option on defense than is Brock Zylstra. Brock has been the weak spot on the perimeter and teams have focused on attacking him in the zone.
When BYU has the ball, expect the Cougars to give the Gaels a steady dose of Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock down low. The duo are two of the best front court players in the West and Hartsock appears to be close to 100 percent after suffering leg injuries that have limited him the past few games.
The biggest players that see any real time on the court for Iona are no taller than 6-7, and they haven't really seen front court players of the caliber of Davies and Hartsock.
The Cougars have a huge advantage on the inside in this game if they choose to take advantage of it. If Matt Carlino and the other Cougar shooters are launching outside shots without first looking to get their bigs touches in the post, it will play right into the hands of Iona.
Expect the Cougars to try to force Grover into some foul trouble from the get go and work to wear out the smaller Gaels in the process. Expect Iona to try to double down on Brandon and Noah and force the ball back out and make BYU hit shots from the outside, something that the Cougars have struggled mightily to do in a number of games this season.
Also expect the Gaels to try to take BYU out of its game through their pressure defense. Iona likes to press teams and force them into playing too fast and out of control.
Although the Cougars like to play fast, they allowed themselves to be sped up too much and taken out of their game a few times on the road in the WCC this year. If Iona can get Carlino to play outside of himself and frustrate him, they will be in a good position to take this game.
However, if BYU plays with composure in the face of the pressure, commits to playing inside-out and allows outside shots to come to them in the flow of the game, then the Cougars will be very tough to beat.