The Loyola (MD) Greyhounds now control their own destiny in the MAAC. All of Iona’s bad habits came back on Friday night on ESPNU and the Gaels find themselves looking for answers once again after last night’s 87-81 defeat.
The problem was the defense. There’s an established baseline of how bad Iona’s defense can be and still win games against good competition, this game exceeded that threshold. The Gaels have lost four of five games this season when they’ve allowed their opponent to score more than 1.13 points per possession. The one win was against Canisius. The four losses were to Purdue, Loyola (MD), Manhattan and Marshall – four of the best teams on Iona’s schedule.
It’s a pity that the defense hasn’t shown up in these big spots, because the Gaels have played alright offensively in each of those games. But even with all the talent Iona has on the offensive side of the ball, it’s not really prepared for a shootout. At the end of a shootout you have to get one or two key stops that help you get back into the game and win it. Iona can’t make those plays.
Like many of Iona’s losses this season the Gaels were forced to play from behind. Loyola (MD) led by 17 at halftime and by 25 with 13:42 remaining in the second half before the comeback started. It’s nearly impossible to come back from that type of deficit. While Iona did manage to make it a four-point game with 26 seconds remaining, that’s just too late.
According to the Win Probability graph on Ken Pomeroy’s site ($) Loyola had around a 60% chance of winning this game from about 12:39 remaining in the first half on and a greater than 75% chance of winning at every moment after the under four minute media timeout. By the time Iona started its comeback the Greyhounds had something like a 98% chance of winning the game. Nobody likes playing with 2% odds (especially when you started with around 50/50).
The more I think about it and the more I look at the stats Iona reminds me of fast-paced Northwestern. Both teams have elite offenses and suspect defenses. When they go up against good competition the cracks in the defense begin to show and the team struggles a bit. The fortunate thing for Iona is that the Gaels play in the MAAC. All that winning the regular season title will do for Jimmy Patsos is give his team a No. 1 seed in Springfield. From there it’s a race to the tournament title.
So that’s not worth too much. There’s four good teams in the MAAC, so unless someone gets upset you’re not avoiding them anyways in the semifinals. Fairfield, the current fourth place team, is a much harder matchup for Loyola than either Manhattan or Iona. Sydney Johnson’s team has the big men that can bang and run with Shane Walker (22 points, 10 boards) and the guards to track down Dylon Cormier (22 points) on defense. Fairfield and Manhattan are the two MAAC teams committed the most to playing defense. In a short tournament over a few days in Massachusetts that might be enough.
If that’s the case, Iona will just be left to wonder, “What if?”