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On the television broadcast of Iona’s MAAC championship game win over Monmouth, ESPN’s Jay Bilas broke down the offensive philosophy of the Gaels’ head coach, Tim Cluess. It was a lot of the usual stuff, pace and space, attacking the driving lanes, etc. There was one thing that stuck out to me though.
Cluess’ believes you can get just as good of a shot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock as you can by running it down to zero. It’s a strategy that can work beautifully at times, but disastrously at others. It is similar to what brought success to the Steve Nash led Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s (which fits the mold of beautiful or disaster).
Each Gael player has been given the green light to shoot the ball and attack. They want to get their offense rolling downhill before you’ve even had time to think.
Senior guard A.J. English is the ring leader of Iona’s high-powered attack, and he’s been the biggest beneficiary. Anytime you average 22.7 points per game, like English is, you know your team must have an effective offense.
When you take into account that three other players score more than 12 points per game, you know you’re going up against something that’s more than effective. I honestly don’t even know the best word to use to describe it.
That’s why today we’re going in the film room to take a look at a couple of the Gaels’ top offensive threats and how they get their shots.
Space the Floor
Iona’s offense starts with one fairly basic basketball principle, spacing the floor. The Gaels will fill the five spots on the perimeter trying to draw the defense away from the basket to create driving lanes.
They are going to attack the lanes to try and draw help defenders before kicking it out to one of their several dangerous 3-point shooters, including Isaiah Williams.
The spacing on that play is actually pretty poor until Williams comes around to the wing after Ibn Muhammed drives the lane. Muhammed is able to draw the attention of the defense into the lane which causes Williams’ defender to get lost underneath Iona’s Jordan Washington when he goes to close out.
There isn’t really anything fancy about what the Gaels are going to try to do. They aren’t going to run a ton of sets. They might spend too much time dribbling around once in a while, but not often.
Everything for Iona starts with spacing the floor, driving the lane and kicking it out to do it all over again.
It’s a lot of the same concepts when they’re playing against a zone defense. Work the ball around the perimeter, attack when there’s an opportunity and then let it fly.
Drive, kick, drive, kick, shoot, swish. It’s not rocket science.
It can be hard to know what to expect sometimes from big-time scorers at the mid-major level. Obviously, there have been guys that are the real deal, but there are just as many that fizzled out once they hit the biggest stage.
I’m not sure which one of those categories English will fit into, but man, this guy can fill it up. He isn’t afraid to shoot from any spot on the floor. It doesn’t matter if it is in transition, off a spot up, in the post or whatever.
You give A.J. English a tiny amount of space and more often than not, he’s going to make you pay.
The only thing Monmouth could’ve done defensively in that situation is pick English up right when he touches the ball. That’s a lot easier said than done though when the defender comes up and he uses a good size-up dribble then his quickness to get to the rim.
I’m sure Jordan Washington got an ear full after he killed that English assist.
Iona will do a lot of different things to get English the ball in different spots on the floor. Probably their most common action is a high ball-screen followed by just letting English do his thing.
The defender goes underneath the screen (duh) then the hedging big man was too slow with his close out. That spells trouble for the defense, especially against this team. It will be key for the Cyclones to not allow themselves to get caught up on screens, especially screens that aren’t very good to begin with, and not allow English to get that space off the screen.
The Gaels will also run a lot of off-ball screens for English looking to get into catch in shoot situations. They’ll put him at the high-post and let him just go to work. Sometimes he’ll even find his way towards the block and post up.
That’s a really tough shot to hit with some pretty good defense. I’m telling you, this kid is really, really good.
The Gaels’ second leading scorer and rebounder is also pretty dang good. The former Indian Hills standout likely could’ve been a solid player at the Power Five level.
Sometimes he has some trouble with finishing, but he’s incredibly active on both the offensive and defensive glass.
Iowa State has seen better players in the post this season but Washington is definitely a force to be reckoned with. He’s a guy that you can’t let get rolling early or else he’ll really get rolling.
The concepts Iona uses aren’t anything the Cyclones haven’t seen before, and you can even see some of what Iowa State does offensively in the Gaels. This game will come down to closing up the driving lanes as much as possible and always having good close outs when they kick it back out.
I know that’s a lot easier said than done but if it’s not done, that ball gets rolling downhill and it’s awfully hard to stop.