Dayton, Ohio – Last season, when the NCAA expanded the field of college basketball teams to 68 in the tournament, it added three more play-in games. Many thought that this addition would just increase the waiting time before the “real” tournament began, and allowed for the higher seeded teams to have one more “easy” team to devour for lunch.
Then Virginia Commonwealth blew that theory out of the water. VCU reached the final four last year as a member of the first four to play. Now all the attention is focused on who can be the next bracket buster.
The BYU Cougars (25-8) will take on the Iona Gaels (25-7) tonight in Dayton, Ohio, the second game of the first four. The winner will be the 14-seed and will move on to play the third-seed Marquette in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament in Louisville, KY.
The name of the game will be offense, as both teams are ranked in the top 15 in points per game. The Gaels are first in the nation, scoring 83.2 points per game, while the Cougars are 13th, averaging 78.2 per game. Both teams are adept at passing the ball, ranking in the top 10 in assists per game. Iona once again claims the top spot with 19.3 per game, while the Cougars rank sixth with 17 dimes per contest.
However, the outcome of the game most likely will not come down to which team can make the most shots, but rather which team can come up with the most defensive stops. The area of rebounding is the only disparity in the comparison of team’s statistics. BYU is ranked 21st in rebounds per game, while Iona is ranked 155th, giving the Cougars a real edge on the glass.
The Gaels are led by senior guard Scott Machado, who leads the nation in assists, with 9.9 per game, and senior forward Mike Glover, who averages 18.5 points and 9 rebounds per game. Rounding out the leaders for the Gaels is junior guard Lamont (MoMo) Jones, whom the Cougars are familiar with from the game against Arizona last season, in which Jones played before transferring to Iona.
BYU has a significant size advantage in the post, as the Gaels’ tallest player is 6’7’’, which plays into the Cougars’ strategy. Senior forward Noah Hartsock leads the Cougars with a consistent 16.7 points per game and junior forward Brandon Davies contributes 15 points and 7.3 rebounds. Hartsock, who has been limited for the past few weeks because of a knee and ankle injury looks as good as he has in a while, according to head coach Dave Rose.
The real fun and possible Cinderella stories begin tonight at 4:30 MST when Mississippi Valley State takes on Western Kentucky to have the chance to play overall no. 1 seed Kentucky. The BYU/Iona game will then start at 7:00. Both games will be televised on truTV.