Iona Gaels vs. Uconn Huskies Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Iona Gaels (8-4 SU, 3-3 ATS) vs. Connecticut Huskies (8-2 SU, 1-7 ATS), 2:00 p.m. EST, Sunday, December 27, 2009, XL Center, Hartford, Conn. TV: ESPNU
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Iona +16/Connecticut -16
Over/Under: 131.

In the final tune-up for both teams before conference play gets into full gear, the Connecticut Huskies will host the Iona Gaels.

Iona has already played two MAAC games in early December but they followed them four non-conference games before this game against Connecticut, the last non-conference game they will play this season. They started off 0-2 in conference play with home losses to St. Peter’s and Siena.

Iona’s other two losses are to Florida State and Baylor, both on a neutral court. The Gaels have some decent wins over Boston University, Creighton and Providence. The loss to Florida State was by only five points, the loss to St. Peter’s was by two, and the loss to Baylor was in overtime.

Connecticut’s two losses are to Duke and Kentucky, both at Madison Square Garden. The loss to Kentucky was by just three points. The Huskies’ best wins are over LSU, William & Mary, Hofstra, Boston University, Harvard and Central Florida. UConn defeated Boston University by 28 points, while Iona beat the same team by nine. Four of UConn’s eight wins are by less than 10 points.

UConn has a big team but is led by its guards and wings. Jerome Dyson, a 6-foot-4 guard, is leading the team in scoring with 20.1 points per game. He is also averaging 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Stanley Robinson, a 6-foot-9 athletic forward, is having a solid season with 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field. Kemba Walker is doing a nice job running the point for the Huskies with 13.2 points, 6.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game. Down low, the Huskies have Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi, who combine to average over 16 points and 15 rebounds per game. With Edwards, Oriakhi and Robinson, three 6-foot-9 players, it’s tough to stop the Huskies down low. Then, they have 7-foot-1 Charles Okwandu and 6-foot-10 freshman Ater Majok, who just became eligible two games ago and now starts over Edwards.

Iona has a very balanced scoring attack which is led by Scott Machado, who averages 11.2 points and 4.3 assists per game. He is the only Gael averaging double-digit points per game. Kyle Smyth and Jermel Jenkins, both averaging just under 10 points per game, complete the Gaels’ three-guard attack. All three of them are freshmen or sophomores. Unlike most mid-major teams, the Gaels can match up size-wise with any team with 7-foot senior center Jonathan Huffman and 6-foot-8 forwards Alejo Rodriguez and Mike McFadden.

Iona does have a big lineup it can put on the floor but the Gaels do not rebounds well at all. They are ranked 313th in the country in rebounding, while UConn is 87th. The Huskies shouldn’t be able to dominate with points in the paint but they should easily win the rebounding battle. Against Florida State earlier this season, one of the biggest teams in the country, Iona lost by just five points but was out-rebounded 35-25. However, the Gaels stayed in the game by forcing 27 turnovers and playing exceptional defense. The Gaels are forcing more than 18 turnovers per game. It will be important for Walker and Dyson to protect the ball and make smart decisions against an aggressive Iona defense. Iona’s key will be to crash the boards and limit UConn to just one shot per possession as much as possible.

Ryno’s Pick: UConn would like to have a strong performance in its final test before Big East play begins. But the Huskies could get caught looking ahead to Wednesday’s game at Cincinnati. The Huskies almost got caught looking ahead earlier this season when they won by just six points over Harvard with a matchup against Kentucky three days afterwards. Iona is not the team to look ahead against. The Gaels have been very competitive this season as well as lasts season against top-level competition. They already have wins over Providence and some quality mid-major teams, plus close losses to Florida State and Baylor. The Huskies have been underwhelming this season, as evidenced by their 1-7 ATS mark, and Iona has been at its best against its toughest competition. Expect some of the same in this game. It’s unlikely that Iona will pull off the road upset, but this one will be close for a lot longer than Huskies fans are hoping. Take Iona to cover the point spread.