Don't count out Iona to return to NCAA Tournament in 2014
Iona's season might have ended in ugly fashion Friday night, as the 15th-seeded Gaels were routed by No. 2 seed Ohio State, 95-70, in their NCAA Tournament opener. There are plenty of reasons, however, to believe the Gaels could experience March Madness for a third-straight year in 2014.
Iona will lose a colossal piece of its puzzle, with MAAC Player of the Year Lamont “Momo” Jones graduating. Jones, a point guard, was third in the nation in scoring this season with 22.6 points per game.
The Gaels, however, could return as many as nine of their 13 players, including three starters. Sharp-shooting guard Sean Armand, who will be a senior, will instantly become the team's No. 1 scoring threat. He averaged 16.6 points per game this season and set a school record with 112 3-pointers.
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Forward David Laury, entering his junior year next season, appears to be poised for a breakout campaign. Overshadowed by Jones and Armand, Laury had a strong season as well, averaging 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. He also was instrumental in keeping Iona in Friday's game in the first half when the Buckeyes' defense silenced Jones and Armand.
To have any shot of returning to the Big Dance, Iona must establish a second guard to step up in coach Tim Cluess' run-and-gun offense. The Gaels' success the past two years had much to do with the fact that they had dynamic talents at point guard – Scott Machado last year and Jones this year.
Junior-to-be Tavon Sledge, a Spring Valley native, is the most likely candidate to fill that void. During his senior year at Half Hollow Hills West High School on Long Island, Sledge, who transferred to Iona from Iowa State, was considered by some scouting services to be the third-best prospect in the New York City area. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.2 assists this year.