Monmouth vs. Iona Pick NCAA Basketball – Jan 15th

The polls are going to be interesting next Monday. Michigan State became the fifth Top Ten team to lose this week, and the first to lose by double digits at home. There are no excuses this time around for the trouncing by Iowa. Denzel Valentine was back and Michigan State was at full strength, rested, and at home. Iowa just simple beat the hell out of them in every facet of the game. However, perhaps rather than pummeling Michigan State in the polls it is time to give Iowa a much-deserved promotion. The Hawkeyes are 4-0 in conference with a sweep of Sparty and a road win at Purdue. That makes their 14-3 record really impressive.

Meanwhile, Saturday provides another chance for outright voting chaos if West Virginia can knock off presumptive #1 Oklahoma. That would give them two wins over the #1 team in the country in the SAME week. Granted, the game is at Oklahoma, but if West Virginia WERE to accomplish that insane feat, you could make a cogent argument from vaulting them from outside the Top Ten to #1 in the country.

Regardless, the crazy season of college hoops continues and gets really cranking tomorrow. Friday nights are usually slower college hoops nights, but several clever conferences, like the Pac-12 and A-10 have deftly filled the void this year by sliding a high caliber game or two to the open evening. The Atlantic-10 serves up George Washington at Dayton is a showcase for two likely tournament teams, while The Valley also grabs some much-deserved airwaves, offering up the best team no one knows exists, Evansville, with a tough road game at conference co-leader Illinois State. The Purple Aces need a win to even up with Illinois State and stay even with Wichita State and Southern Illinois.

However, my favorite game is a pivotal Metro Atlantic contest, so let’s take a look at a fantastic MAAC matchup to try and end this miserable week of pick futility.

Today’s Free Pick:

Monmouth Hawks at Iona Gaels -2

The Monmouth Hawks gained national fame for their bench; more specifically their bench’s wacky antics. However, the only reason that bench became famous was the play of the starters and rotation guys on the court, who have stacked up the nation’s best mimd-major resume with wins over Georgetown, USC, Notre Dame, UCLA, as well as close losses to Dayton (by 3) and the same USC squad on the road.

It is worth noting that a few of those wins were true road games; Georgetown, UCLA and Rutgers. It is also worth noting they have been handled on the road by two teams with similar or worse profiles than Iona, Army and Canisius.

Tonight they have a really tough conference roadie at Iona. The Gaels are just 9-6 but were the preseason coaches pick to win the MAAC and have done little lately to dispel that notion. They are 6-0 in league play and have ripped through Fairfield, Quinipiac, and Niagara by a combined 48 points and all by double digits – those are teams in the mix to contend in the conference. They also dispatched the three lower regarded teams with equal and greater ease. They haven’t had a single digit margin in conference yet.

Iona, despite the national profile of Monmouth this season, is still the rightly installed favorite, and I expect them to win at home.   This isn’t to say Monmouth doesn’t deserve real at-large consideration if Iona ends up winning the league, rather it is to say that if any small conference deserves a look at multiple bids, it is this one. Iona’s six losses are to Valpo, Oregon State, Tulsa and Rhode Island – all on the road, and to Akron and UCSB on a neutral floor in Vegas. They could very well finish the season at 22-8 or something similar and have a good profile.

For tonight, they put their perfect home record on the line.   AJ English is one of the best players in the country you probably haven’t heard too much about. Look for the dynamic guard to play well at home and to keep the usually spirited Monmouth bench from having too much fun at the Gaels expense.

Free Pick: Iona Gaels -2

Chris Scheeren / Author