The Iona Gaels, in their quest to upset Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament, have two things going for them that they didn't have a year ago: momentum and track suits.

That was the feeling Monday among many students on the school's New Rochelle campus. Iona, the 15th seed in the West regional, will play second-seeded Ohio State at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Dayton, Ohio.

The Gaels -- who settled for an at-large bid to the Big Dance last year, only to be eliminated in the opening round by Brigham Young -- automatically qualified for this year's tournament by defeating Manhattan in the MAAC Tournament championship last week.

In other words, unlike last year, Iona is riding into March Madness on a winning streak, which could be the difference between a first-round victory and an early exit, said Gabrielle Jordan, 21, a senior cheerleader.

"The intensity on the court [at the MAAC championship game] was unreal, something that I've never felt here at Iona," Jordan said. "Last year, when we got to go, it was a great experience, and the feeling was unbelievable. But this year, actually winning the MAAC Tournament ... the feeling was just indescribable."

A month ago, it seemed improbable that the Gaels would reach the NCAA Tournament again, having lost six out of seven games. But Iona has rallied to win five in a row since.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The hot streak began against Loyola Maryland on March 1. In that game, the coaching staff -- usually decked out in business suits -- donned track suits in a bid to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis. Considering them lucky, the coaches have continued to wear the white-trimmed black track suits and say they will do so as long as the Gaels keep winning.

"We're undefeated with the track suits," said Jonathan Stanko, 20, a junior and a reporter for "So that's definitely a superstition the team has had. Fans are in the stands wearing the track suits."

The fact that Iona has a high-powered offense, which is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 80.7 points per game, also should give the team a fighting chance against Ohio State, ranked seventh by The Associated Press.

"If we could just get some offensive flow going, you never know for an upset," Stanko said. ESPN's Dick Vitale "doesn't like us to win, but a couple of other people have put us in the upset pool maybe to be a bracket buster."