Iona is a popular Cinderella choice to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament because of its fine guard play, but Fairfield has the defense and the three-point shooting to cover the number Friday.

Look for a closer game then some people think in Friday night Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference action when the Fairfield Stags (17-11 overall, 5-6 away) pay a visit to the Iona Gaels (22-6 overall, 8-1 home) at the Hynes Athletic Center in New Rochelle, NY at 9:00 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPNU.

Iona GaelsIona is a popular Cinderella pick to go far in the NCAA Tournament because of its great guard play, and it is ranked 53rd in the country on the Pomeroy Ratings, well ahead of the next best MAAC schools, which are 105th ranked Manhattan and tonight’s opponent, 106th ranked Fairfield.

With such a disparity in the ratings, one would think that Iona would be dominating a lesser conference much like Murray State is, but that is not the case as with a 12-3 conference mark, the Gaels have just a one-game lead in the MAAC ahead of the Stags and Loyola-Maryland, who are both at 12-4. The last time that Iona a chance to get some separation in the conference, it lost at Loyola two weeks ago.

Fairfield has split its two games with Loyola and it lost the first meeting with Iona, so an upset on the NCAA Basketball odds tonight would make the MAAC standings very interesting, as it could force a three-way tie atop the conference with all three clubs being 2-2 vs. the other two schools.

As much as the experts and Pomeroy love Iona, Fairfield has the much better defense between these two teams and the Stags are a good enough three-point shooting team to take advantage of the suspect Iona perimeter defense.

The point spread at 5 Dimes has Fairfield as a nice +8 underdog for this contest at current odds of -105.

It is understandable why the Iona backcourt is held in such high esteem, as point guard Scott Machado has been one of the best play-makers in the country while averaging 13.3 points, 10.1 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game and shooting guard Lamont Jones has added 16.2 points per game. Machado is a senior, and as you might expect on a team with an experienced point guard of his caliber, Iona has protected the ball well, ranking 25th in turnover percentage.

That has led to the Gaels ranking 19th in the country in offensive efficiency and eighth in effective field goal percentage. All that said however, Iona is a small team with no contributor over 6-foot-7, and thus it has struggled in both offensive rebounding percentage (ranked 153rd) and defensive rebounding percentage (194th), and the Iona defense has been a liability, ranking 157th in efficiency and 231st in effective field goal percentage against.

Yes the Gaels are a nice team for a non-major and they can cause a bit of trouble, but frankly we feel that the media attention they have been receiving has made them overrated.

Besides, good defense stops good offense and Fairfield ranks 37th in defensive efficiency and 36th in effective field goal percentage against, and the Stags rank 13th in the entire land in forcing turnovers. Thus, they can put pressure on Machado & Co. unlike most other MAAC teams, and they should certainly be motivated by the chance to tie their much more highly publicized conference brethren in the standings.

Now Fairfield ranks only 91st in effective field goal percentage offensively, but it is hitting a very decent 36.5 percent of its three-point shots and it is going up against an Iona three-point defense here that is ranked 216th while allowing a 35.3 percent success rate.

Look for the Stags to hit just enough three-pointers to compliment their fine defense and take this game right down to the wire, with an outright upset not so far-fetched.

NCAA Basketball Pick: Fairfield +8 (-105)