Iona players await their NCAA Tournament fate at Selection Sunday watch party inside Hynes Athletics Center. Gaels will face Oregon in first-round matchup Friday in Sacramento. (Photo by Brian Beyrer/Iona College Athletics)
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions will be heading west again to begin their NCAA Tournament experience.
Iona drew the No. 14 seed in the Midwest Regional when the 68-team field was announced Sunday evening, and will face third-seeded Oregon in a Round of 64 matchup Friday at the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Should the Gaels pull off the upset, they would face either Creighton or Rhode Island in the Round of 32. All game times are still to be determined.
"We're psyched," said head coach Tim Cluess after learning his team's destination. "It's a great opportunity, we're playing a great team. We're just really thrilled to be a part of this tournament, and our guys are getting ready to play their hearts out."
Iona (22-12) locked up the MAAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by repeating as conference champions in an 87-86 overtime win against Siena last Monday. They face an Oregon team who was once a Top 5 program in the nation, and one who still poses a legitimate threat to advance to the Final Four. At 29-5, Dana Altman and the Ducks were narrowly upended by Arizona in Saturday night's Pac-12 championship game, and possess one of the most dynamic playmakers in the nation in All-American candidate Dillon Brooks.
WATCH: Iona's reaction to their NCAA Tournament opponent (video by Jaden Daly, Daly Dose Of Hoops)
Reaction from the @ICGaels as they find out their opponent: It's Oregon, on Friday in Sacramento. #ICMBB #MAACHoops pic.twitter.com/vTsvyoC9ZF— A Daly Dose Of Hoops (@DalyDoseOfHoops) March 12, 2017
This will be the fourth time that the Gaels will be competing in the field of 68 over the past six seasons. In 2012, Iona received a No. 14 seed and at-large berth, but were defeated by Brigham Young in a First Four matchup in Dayton. They returned to Dayton a year later as MAAC champions and a No. 15 seed, but were defeated by Ohio State, and battled Iowa State late in the second half last year as a No. 13 seed before ultimately coming up short against the Cyclones, an experience Cluess believes can help his team.
"We've already talked about that," he reiterated. "We already talked about a couple of mistakes we made that did change that game. There's a lot of things on and off the court that our guys really have to be aware of and really execute well in order to give us an opportunity."
An opportunity is all one could ask for in this field, and the Gaels are blessed to be able to take the floor. But the good will and over-the-moon sentiment ends there, however, as there is now a battle to be won.
"It's a good feeling," sophomore point guard Rickey McGill admitted when asked what emotions went into seeing Iona's name on the Hynes Athletics Center video board. "Now it's time to buckle down and get ready for the game."