Under the seven-year coaching tenure of Island Park’s Tim Cluess, the Iona College men’s basketball team has been a fixture in the postseason.
This season is no exception. The MAAC champion and 14th- seeded Gaels (22-12) will face Pac-12 runner-up and third seed Oregon (29-5) in the Midwest Regional on Friday in Sacramento, California.
Cluess, making his fourth trip to the tournament, knows what lies ahead. “The one-bid conferences are pretty much always getting the lower seed,’’ he said Sunday, “so you’re always playing one of the top 10, 20 teams in the country, so right away it’s stacked against you a little bit and rightfully so, because the conference they play in is stronger. So I think you have to just have one of those days where you play special and you’re able to combat the other team and maybe take them off their game a little bit and hopefully have some magic happen.’’
Maybe this time? “Hopefully,’’ Cluess said. “It would be great, wouldn’t it?’’
Oregon will be without 6-10 Chris Boucher, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the conference tournament. The NBA prospect was averaging 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots. His loss, combined with Oregon’s loss to Arizona in the conference championship game, might have cost the Ducks a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
Cluess has won at least 20 games in each season at Iona and is 162-77. In the 2012 NCAA Tournament, Iona led BYU by 24 points before losing, 78-72. The Gaels lost to Ohio State, 95-70, in 2013 and were beaten by Iowa, 94-81, last season.
Cluess also guided the team to NIT first-round games in 2014 and 2015. In his first season, he coached Iona to the championship round of the Collegeinsider.com tournament.
Iona did not seem a lock for an NCAA bid this season. Monmouth was dominating the MAAC until it was upset by Siena in the semifinals. Iona needed overtime before beating Siena, 87-86, on a layup by freshman forward E.J. Crawford.
Iona’s star is forward Jordan Washington, who averages 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. Other key players include Sam Cassell Jr. (10.8) and Rickey McGill (10.8). Jon Severe has shot 43.9 percent from three-point range.
Oregon’s core consists of forwards Dillon Brooks (16.3) and Jordan Bell (10.7) and guards Tyler Dorsey (13.3) and Dylan Ennis (11.0). Brooks was named Pac-12 player of the year. “Obviously, they’re a really talented team. They like to play fast,’’ Cluess said. “They’re really athletic. I think it’s going to be a great challenge. Our guys are really looking forward to it. We can’t wait to get out there and play.’’
Cluess, 58, played at St. John’s and Hofstra. He started his postseason run as a coach at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, where he was 264-78 from 1997-2005. San Antonio Spurs swingman Danny Green played for Cluess at St. Mary’s.
Cluess coached then-Suffolk CC Brentwood to a Region XV title before heading to Division II C.W. Post, where he was 98-23 from 2006-10.
Iona gained its first NCAA bid in 1979 with a roster composed largely of former Long Island high school players assembled by Jim Valvano, who attended Seaford High School. Valvano later coached North Carolina State to the NCAA title in 1983.
Regardless of the outcome. Cluess does not take the NCAA Tournament for granted. “I’m just blessed that I coach players who really, really work harder and I’ve got a great staff that works really hard as well,’’ he said. “And we’re fortunate to have kids who bought in and sacrificed and made it happen.’’