NCAA Basketball Picks: Manhattan vs. Iona MAAC Finals

Willie Bee

Monday, March 10, 2014 2:37 PM GMT

Slowly but surely, slots are filling for the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As of this morning, five of 68 spaces for the Big Dance have been claimed, with the unbeaten Wichita State Shockers from the Missouri Valley Conference among them and headed for a No. 1 seed.

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The automatic bid from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will be sealed Monday evening when the Iona Gaels and Manhattan Jaspers meet in the championship game for a second straight season. ESPN3 streams the contest from MassMutual Center in  Springfield beginning at 7 PM (ET).

SBR's live college basketball odds should have the official opening spread and total shortly. The spread should be very tight, anywhere from a pick to Manhattan -2 if my calculations are correct. I'm expecting something in the vicinity of 158-161 for the total.

The Gaels were laying 4 points last March when they collided with the Jaspers for the MAAC tourney title, and just missed the cover in a 60-57 victory. The final fell well short of what was a 134.5 point scoreboard hurdle, and both regular season meetings this campaign also finished 'under,' though not by much.

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Regular Season Split Sets Up Monday's Rubber Match

A second consecutive matchup in the MAAC Championship comes on the heels of the clubs finishing 1-2 in the regular season standings. Iona (22-9 straight up, 16-14 against the spread) enjoyed a 2-game cushion over Manhattan in the end, and the Gaels' fourth straight 20-win season netted Tim Cluess Coach of the Year honors in the conference as well as a contract extension through 2018-19.

Just as they did a year ago, the Gaels and Jaspers split their regular season contests with home wins.  Iona drew first blood on Jan. 31 with an 85-73 victory at Hynes Athletic Center in New Rochelle, easily covering a -2.5 spread with the final stopping three points shy of the total.

David Laury, one of four Gaels to average double-figures each game, came off the bench to score a game-high 21, also adding eight rebounds in his 29 minutes. Mike Poole, the senior transfer from Rutgers, added a career-high 19 for Cluess' club.

It took Steve Masiello's crew overtime to even the score in the return bout, but Manhattan (24-7 SU, 15-14-2 ATS) got the job done at Draddy Gymnasium just 10 short days ago. The Jaspers watched a 10-point halftime lead disappear in the final 20 minutes as the Gaels battled back to force OT, and the 80-77 final margin of victory for Manhattan wasn't enough to cover a -4.5 point line on the home team.

Junior guard Emmy Andujar scored a career-best 28 in the triumph, five of those points in the extra five minutes of action.

Gaels, Jaspers Prep For 3rd Game In Three Days

Iona's run to a potential third consecutive NCAA Tournament began Saturday with a fairly easy 94-71 decision over Rider. The Gaels were laying 9.5 and never trailed while blistering the nets with a 59.6% shooting performance. That was followed by a nip-&-tuck affair Sunday vs. Canisius, a game in which Iona needed a strong closing spurt to come away with the 75-72 win, just missing the cover as 3.5 point chalk.

Manhattan is in search of its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years, and only the seventh in school history. The Jaspers opened the conference tourney with a 72-58 win Saturday vs. Saint Peter's as 9.5 point favorites, and followed up with an 87-68 dubya Sunday against Quinnipiac to easily beat a 6 point line.

I'm inclined to simply take the Gaels because of Cluess, especially if Iona is a small pup in this scrap, but the total interests me more. The two regular season meetings were just shy of the number, and a third consecutive day on the floor could lead to some tired legs on defense. My free college basketball pick leans are on the 'over,' assuming it's not set above 161, and the Gaels for the side.

College Basketball Pick: Iona-Manhattan Over, Iona Even-+2