Iona is the highest rated team in the MAAC, but the Gaels may be overvalued as decided road favorites over a Marist team whose strengths match up well with the Gaels’ weaknesses.
It is the return of Friday night MAAC action for the 2015-16 season and the conference favorites may be involved in a closer game than the point spread suggests when those Iona Gaels (2-2, 2-2 ATS) hit the road to pay a visit to the Marist Red Foxes (1-3, 2-0 ATS) at the McCann Center in Poughkeepsie, NY at 7:00 ET with live audio only available at icgaels.com
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Marist as a large home underdog for this contest with the current line at +9½ with odds of -102.
Gaels Denied NCAA Bid
Iona comes off of a 26-9 season including going 17-3 in conference for another MACC regular season championship, but the season ended in disappointing fashion for the Gaels when they were upset by Manhattan in the MAAC Championship Game, depriving them of another NCAA Tournament bid.
The Gaels opened up this season with two road losses vs. stiff competition at Valparaiso and Oregon State before evening their record by winning the last two games, as after beating Delaware they blew out Fairfield 101-77 in their MAAC opener on Tuesday.
Meanwhile this is the MAAC opener for Marist, which is one of the youngest teams in the country, ranking 330th out of 349 Division I teams in experience averaging just 1.09 years per player. Still, the good news is that the Red Foxes have been the winning NCAA Basketball picks ATS on both occasions they have been on the betting board this season, once in their 73-63 win here at home over Dartmouth and the other time in a 79-72 road loss at Kent State.
Same Old Iona?
All of Iona’s success in recent years has been fueled by playing at a high octane pace, resulting in usually having one of the country’s best offenses and worst defenses, with the offense usually outscoring opponents enough to win MAAC Championships and gain NCAA bids. Well, nothing has changed pace-wise this year with the Gaels ranking 10th in the nation in tempo rating while averaging a whopping 81.0 points but allowing a worse 82.5 points.
And the lax defense always makes it dicey to give this many points with the Gaels, especially playing on the road where they do not feed off of the energy of the crowd like they do at home. Note that in the two home wins this season, Iona has scored 92 and 101 points respectively, and while the two road losses came vs. stiffer competition, it is still not a coincidence that they were held to 58 points by Valpo and 73 points by Oregon State.
The defense meanwhile has been bad regardless of the venue with Iona 298th in the country in effective field goal percentage allowed at 54.4 percent, and even the offense is becoming a bit one dimensional for the time being with a heavy reliance on outside shots, as the Gaels are 57th in the land in three-point shooting at 39.1 percent but a disappointing 300th in two-point shooting at 43.0 percent.
Red Foxes Do Damage Inside
Marist is a team that seems equipped to take advantage of the Gaels on both ends of the court, maybe even enough so to spring an outright upset!
On offense, Marist may rank just 111th in the country in overall field goal percentage at 45.9 percent, but the Red Foxes are actually 35th in two-point offense at a nice 55.4 percent as it is the 32.6 percent three-point shooting dragging the overall percentage down. Look for Marist to pound the rock down low here as often as possible vs. an undersized Iona team that does not have a starter bigger than 6-foot-7 and thus ranks 284th in two-point defense at 53.1 percent.
As for the defense, Marist is one team that is at least capable of limiting the excellent Gaels’ perimeter shooting as the Red Foxes are a respectable 74th nationally in three-point defense allowing only a 30.6 percent success rate. Granted Marist is not nearly as strong defensively on the interior allowing 50.6 percent makes on two-point attempts, but as mentioned Iona does not have much of an inside presence offensively while living mostly beyond the three-point arc.
Marist Has Held Its Own with MAAC Kingpin
Finally, while Iona has been a MAAC kingpins for several seasons now, Marist has not been intimidated by the Gaels going 14-6 ATS in the last 20 head-to-head meetings overall despite having the inferior team on paper in every meeting. In fact, the underdogs are 12-5 ATS in the last 17 meetings.
This could be a case of déjà vu as while Iona no doubt is the better team overall, Marist is capable of exploiting the Gaels’ weaknesses enough to at least cover the spread if not pull the outright shocker as almost double-digit home underdogs in Poughkeepsie on Friday.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Marist +9½ (-102)