Lately it seems like Iona just does not lose.
The Gaels have been far and away the class of the MAAC and New York City basketball over the last five years. Under head coach Tim Cluess’ stewardship, Iona has amassed a 115-51 (69%) record overall and an insane 72-20 (78%) mark in regular season conference play.
Unsurprisingly, Iona has represented the MAAC in postseason play every year of Cluess’ tenure, starting with a trip to the CIT final in 2011. That breakthrough year was followed by the first of three MAAC regular season titles in 2012 and a rarity for the conference: an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The Gaels’ one “down year” (if you could call it that) came in 2012-13 where they finished with an 11-7 conference record. However, a MAAC championship and second consecutive trip to the Big Dance easily wiped away any bad feelings that may have lingered around New Rochelle.
Now we get to the good part. Over the last two seasons, Iona has been unconscious in conference play.
The additions of Monmouth and Quinnipiac to the conference and the move to a 20 game slate prior to last season did little to slow down the high-flying Gaels. They have run away with regular season titles each of the last two years, compiling a combined 33-5 record including a 10 game winning streak heading into Friday night’s showdown with Manhattan on ESPN2.
So just how remarkably consistent have the Gaels been this decade? If their outright record doesn’t do it for you, there are plenty of other stats to dive into.
Including the MAAC tournament, Iona has lost just 23 times to conference opponents in the Tim Cluess era. As an interesting point, every MAAC opponent has taken down the Gaels at least once, including newcomers Monmouth and Quinnipiac and the departed Loyola (MD).
What’s so amazing about those 23 losses? The fact that the Gaels have lost those 23 games by a mere 88 points. Cluess’ squad has lost by double figures to conference opponents just twice: a 10-point loss to Fairfield in the 2012 conference semifinals and a 12-point loss at Quinnipiac last season. No other loss has been by more than six points. Their average margin of defeat in conference play is just 3.8 points.
The conference rivals with the most success against the Gaels? Manhattan and Canisius. The Jaspers and Golden Griffins have each notched four victories over Iona, with the Griffs being the last team to take down the Gaels at the Hynes Center. In fact, just four of those losses have come on Iona’s home court.
Iona has undoubtedly been clutch in recent years. The Gaels are 13-6 in games decided by four points or fewer (or which headed to overtime) over the past two years and currently hold an 8-2 record in such games this season.
However, much of that is making up for past shortcomings. An improvement to the mean, if you will. Ironically, Iona was just 5-9 in such games during their MAAC Championship season of 2012-13 including a remarkable stretch where they lost six out of seven games by a combined 11 points. Five of those losses came to conference opponents while three required extra time, with two going to double overtime.
As mentioned earlier, Iona hardly ever drops a game at home. In fact, there are times when they seem downright invincible on their home court. The Gaels have won 18 straight games at home, matching the longest streak in the history of the Hynes Center, and represent one of just 18 teams in Division I to hold a perfect home record this season. Under Cluess, Iona is 40-4 on their home floor.
Of course, the Gaels have just one more fight to wage on their home court, and it comes Friday night against their arch-rivals from Manhattan on a national stage.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.