To say this has been a difficult season for Iona would be an understatement. On top of having a new coaching staff along with an extremely young roster, the Gaels also had the longest pause of the college basketball season with a 51 day layoff. In other words, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Rick Pitino and the Gaels.
With the inexperience on Iona’s roster as well as the countless schedule changes, it has been almost impossible for the Gaels to get into any kind of groove. With that said, Iona was on a three game winning streak before a COVID-19 outbreak paused their season for 51 days. While the winning streak was great, it should be noted that these wins were due in large part to the string of heroic performances put together by senior Isaiah Ross. In all honesty, Iona depended on Ross to provide the bulk of the offensive production and it made them very one dimensional. The Gaels went into the shutdown with a solid 5-3 record, but this reliance on Ross was a noticeable flaw to the team and it needed to be addressed.
When Iona resumed their season against Manhattan last weekend, they looked like a completely different team. The ball movement was better, the scoring was more balanced, and when a starter got into foul trouble, bench players came in and stepped up to the challenge on both sides of the ball. This was particularly evident last night against Monmouth when sophomore Osborn Shema was given extended minutes for the first time while freshman Nelly Junior Joseph was on the bench in foul trouble. Shema, who’s just returning from a relatively serious groin injury, is still just finding his way on this Iona team. That being said, he played his heart out in last night’s win against Monmouth and grabbed 10 rebounds to provide a huge front court presence while Nelly was on the bench. Shema rose to the occasion when his name was called upon, and this is something that has been a common theme for Iona throughout the past couple of weeks.
From a guard standpoint, freshman Ryan Myers has already made huge strides under Pitino and his production has taken a great deal of pressure off senior point guard Asante Gist. Pitino has mentioned that Myers has a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball, but his ability to score in a multitude of ways at such a young age is incredibly exciting and he is already a player that can carry an offense when he gets hot. Another guard who needs to be mentioned is senior Colton Cashaw, who just recently returned from a foot injury that sidelined him in the beginning of the season. Cashaw has done a great job of coming off the bench and providing tenacious defense and smart playmaking. Having capable guards on the bench is a great luxury that will take a huge load off Gist’s shoulders.
With this newfound depth to go along with consistent contributors like Ross, Gist, Van Eyck, and JeanLouis, this no longer feels like a team in transition and feels more like a team that can do some damage in March. Obviously there is a long way to go, but with the way they’re playing and the fact that they’re being led by a Hall of Fame coach, there’s reason to be optimistic about Iona’s outlook for the rest of the season.