Iona players celebrate as their name is displayed during NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday evening. Gaels will travel to Pittsburgh as No. 15 seed in Midwest Regional and will play Duke Thursday. (Photo by Iona College Athletics)
Iona's latest NCAA Tournament road will begin with one of the most recognizable names in college basketball history.
The Gaels learned their fate along with the rest of the nation Sunday evening, and will begin their latest experience of March Madness in Pittsburgh on Thursday, as the No. 15 seed in the Midwest Regional. The three-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions will face Duke at the PPG Paints Arena in the Steel City, with the winner to meet either Rhode Island or Oklahoma on Saturday in second-round action. The Pittsburgh location is the closest to New Rochelle that Iona has played an NCAA Tournament game since 1985, when the Gaels competed in Hartford against Loyola-Chicago, who -- coincidentally -- is also in this year's NCAA Tournament after winning the Missouri Valley Conference.
"Oh my goodness, it's a dream come true," said Zach Lewis, the MAAC Tournament most valuable player, of Iona's matchup with the Blue Devils, the first in program history. "It's amazing that we get to play against Duke and Coach K, and their great history, so just to be able to be out there and be on the court to compete against those guys is going to be a great experience."
Iona searches for its second-ever NCAA Tournament win and first since 1980 as it prepares to meet Duke, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest and five-time national champions. Led by potential No. 1 NBA Draft pick Marvin Bagley III and senior guard Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils will be one of the stiffest challenges the Gaels have faced all season, but that has had no effect on the confidence level of Iona's players.
"This is what we prepared for," Lewis added. "Just to be here in this moment and to see it come true, it's amazing."
Tipoff of the Iona-Duke game will be 30 minutes following the conclusion of Rhode Island-Oklahoma, which tips off at 12:15 p.m. Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, and Dan Bonner will have the call on CBS, with Dana Jacobson serving as sideline reporter.