Iona head coach Tim Cluess thought his team could go anywhere from 2-4 to 4-2 in their first six games, and while he is happy that their record is the latter, this group of Gaels still feels like one not yet ready to defend their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season championship.
“I think we do certain things well, then we take a step forward and then take two steps back,” Cluess said. “I think it’s going to take a while for me to even figure out this group and for this group to understand what they need to do more often to be more successful on a more consistent basis.”
Cluess knew that he had three solid pieces in juniors A.J. English, Isaiah Williams and senior David Laury, and that this season rested on how his fourth through 11th players came along. Finding that mix of players to compliment has been a difficult task, and in their losses the Gaels have struggled to find depth to support their backbone of veterans.
“When we’re only having two or three guys play well, I don’t think we’re going to be successful and I think that’s where the frustration lies,” Cluess said. “Guys were playing well for a night and then the next night look like they never played with the team before.”
Laury doesn’t worry about getting opportunities. He said he probably got selfish at least four times when he took a career-high 20 field goals at Arkansas, but that he attacked more often when he saw some of his teammates being tentative after he kicked the ball out.
“I was to blame but that’s his biggest thing though [Cluess] harps on; spacing the floor,” Laury said. “We get too cluttered on top of each other. We have shooters all over the floor, we have playmakers and people who could score. There’s no reason for everybody to be cluttered up.”
The Gaels rank near the bottom of the country in rebounding, and while that may continue due to their high paced offense, Laury said he would like to replicate the last two outings where he has become a more active rebounder.
“I let a couple mental lapses mess my production up as far as rebounding the ball,” Laury said. “I’m a rebounder by nature, but I let other things get me upset and it took away from me rebounding the last two games.”
The 6’9″ senior said he doesn’t worry about getting a certain shot total per night, because he feels the offense is so free flowing that those numbers will equal out.
“I think I may be a tad bit passive and I just need to be more aggressive,” Laury said. “Being more aggressive, more shots will come. I don’t want to shoot the ball 15 to 20 times a game, I’m not that type of player I’m more of a in-between the 12 and 15 range I don’t’ ever want to exceed that 15 shots a game even though I’ve done it last year I don’t’ go out there and go oh I got to get my shots in order to get my shots up that’s just not my actually that’s not how any of our players on the team that’s what makes us so great.”
The Gaels will also need players behind the Preseason pick for MAAC Player of the Year to develop into options to spell the senior for minutes. Laury has already tallied 39 minutes in two games this season, including the most recent against SEC caliber athletes at Arkansas. The most important thing Cluess has been looking for from his bench candidates has been energy, which he feels has been lacking in some when they come into the game.
“It takes a while for everything to blend, but if you play really hard you can live with winning and losing, it’s about the effort they put out there,” Cluess said. “I’m hoping my bench gets deeper and better as we go along because the energy level will get better. We’re also playing some extremely high level teams and you don’t have as much room for error in those games that you might in other games, so we may be shorter on our bench right now than we’re going to be in our league season because of certain teams we played against.”
As for looking for players who could spell Laury, Cluess feels that either sophomore Ryden Hines or Daniel Robinson are close to having an impact and could spell Laury for just enough time for him to catch his breath.
“Other guys have to step up and make us work hard, give and make coach have that confidence in you to put you in the game to give me and A.J. just a little break,” Laury said. “It could be 30-40 seconds or a minute, if we’re going non-stop back and forth, it’s going to take a toll on anybody.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.