Snakebitten Gaels Just Can't Get A Break

Iona's current 20-game losing streak dating back to last season is a program record

Jan. 25, 2007

By Bryan Armen Graham



Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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Misfortune, thy name is Mamadou Diakhate.


For a team to get through an entire season without collecting a single victory, steady ineptitude has to conspire with just plain old bad luck. That pretty much sums up Iona, a ballclub which has suffered the tortures of the damned on its way to an 0-19 record.


Just one season after winning 23 games and the MAAC tournament (before giving eventual Final Four entrant LSU a spirited battle in the first round of the NCAAs), the Gaels are the last remaining winless team out of the 336 schools in Division I. The graduation of four starters and upwards of 5,000 points -- along with a rash of injuries -- has proven too much to overcome for even the coaching acumen of Jeff Ruland.


But the last 11 days have been particularly agonizing for the Gaels. After dropping back-to-back overtime games to Fairfield (at home) and Canisius (on the road), Iona suffered another excruciating 81-80 loss to Niagara on Saturday.


And then came Tuesday's rematch with the Stags at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, where Diakhate -- a transfer from Eastern Kentucky -- issued a stomach punch that would have made Sonny Liston wince.


Trailing 62-59 in the waning seconds of regulation, Fairfield was desperate for an equalizer. But Iona defenders continued to play masterful defense on their top scorer Michael Van Schaick, who hadn't made a shot in close to seven minutes. With time winding down, the Gaels found themselves one defensive stop away from their first victory.


Enter Diakhate.


The 6-foot-6, 205-pound bruiser, who had attempted just one three-pointer (a miss) during his Fairfield career, received a pass from Van Schaick just beyond the arc -- and calmly buried an unlikely game-tying longball with 2.6 seconds remaining.


Iona would go on to lose their third overtime game in four tries. After staking and surrendering a five-point lead in the extra frame, of course.


"Close isn't any good unless it's in hand grenades and horseshoes," Ruland told The Journal News following his side's latest gut-shot loss. "But they're trying. They're getting better. We'll break through shortly."


With several meaty opportunities remaining on the schedule, the chances of the Gaels finishing the season winless -- at 0-30 -- are remote. Iona gets two shots against lowly Saint Peter's (3-16) in late February.


Trivia Bag


Name the only school to defeat three No. 1 seeds in the same NCAA tournament. (Answer below.)


Bubble Team of the Week


Candidate: Xavier

Record (Conference): 14-6 (4-2)

RPI: 49

SOS: 68

Best Win (RPI): Villanova (15)

Worst Loss (RPI): Cincinnati (141)


Ten years ago this season, the Atlantic 10 sent five teams to the NCAA tournament. But without a single slam dunk at-large team for the first time in the league's 30-year history, the A-10 finds itself at a historical low point. The conference's automatic at-larger was supposed to be Xavier, as the Sean Miller-coached Musketeers returned all five starters from last year's late-breaker. But after nabbing early victories against Villanova, Illinois and Kansas State, the Musketeers have battled inconsistency. Without many more opportunities to impress -- Xavier has no remaining opponents that rank in the RPI Top 50 -- the Musketeers must avoid homestretch pitfalls to show that losses to Cincinnati and Bucknell were aberrations.


At-Large Verdict (if Selection Sunday were today): OUT


Rising Arizona


Those who keep tabs on the smaller conferences have been aware of Winthrop for some time. The Eagles have made six NCAA tournament appearances in the last eight seasons under Gregg Marshall, dominating their Big South competition most of the way.


But lesser-known conference rival High Point, which has enjoyed steady improvement under fourth-year coach Bart Lundy, has designs of halting Winthrop's conference reign. The Panthers (6-0 in the Big South) have been on a collision course with the Eagles (5-0) since the start of the season -- and the schools will put their pristine Big South records on the line Thursday before a capacity Millis Athletic Center crowd.


High Point junior Arizona Reid is averaging 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds in league play. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound power forward ranks among the national leaders in both categories.


The Panthers, in their eighth season as full-time members of Division I, have recorded just one victory in 19 meetings with Winthrop. But the stakes have never been higher than Thursday's contest for inside track in the Big South title chase.


Trivia Answer


Arizona defeated top seeds Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky on its way to the program's first-ever national championship in 1997. (The Wildcats came close to duplicating the feat in 2001, collecting victories over No. 1 seeds Illinois and Michigan State before bowing to top-seeded Duke in the national championship game.)




·         Vanderbilt has won a mere 39 of the program's 167 games against longtime Southeastern Conference rival Kentucky. But with their 72-67 victory over the Wildcats on Saturday at Rupp Arena, the Commodores have taken three straight decisions from Kentucky for just fourth time in the rivalry's 95-year history.


·         Third-ranked UCLA has recorded more wins over RPI Top 100 schools (12) than any other school.


·         Butler sharpshooter A.J. Graves has done a lot to help the No. 14-ranked Bulldogs earn their national profile. But the Switz City, Ind., native has been incredible from the charity stripe. Graves has made 91-of-92 attempts from the stripe this season, a crazy-good 98.9 percent clip. His lone miss came during a three-point loss to Kent State on Nov. 25.


·         On Wednesday, the tournament directors for the Maui Invitational announced the field for the 2008 event, which promises to be one of the strongest in recent memory. Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oregon, Saint Joseph's and Texas will join host school Chaminade for one of the game's most celebrated early-season tournaments, to be held Nov. 24 through Nov. 26, 2008 at the Lahaina Civic Center. Stay tuned.


·         Throughout the 2000s, conference season in the West Coast Conference has been a race to determine which school would finish second behind Gonzaga. But this year could prove a different story, as Santa Clara and Saint Mary's are tied alongside the Zags atop the league standings with identical 4-1 marks.


·         The Reebok ABCD Camp is no more. John "Sonny" Vaccaro announced Monday that his celebrated invitational camp for the nation's elite high school players will not be back at Fairleigh Dickinson University for the first summer since its inception in 1984. Both Vaccaro and the shoe company have acknowledged that a Reebok-sponsored camp could still occur on the Teaneck, N.J., campus -- but it will not be known as ABCD and Vaccaro will not be involved.


·         The Student Affairs Committee at Notre Dame suspended sophomore point guard Kyle McAlarney indefinitely Monday as a result of his Dec. 29 arrest on marijuana possession charges. The Staten Island native, who averaged 10.3 points while starting the first 12 games of the season for the surprising Irish, had been practicing with the team until Monday. As a result of the school's hard-line stance on the offense, McAlarney must withdraw from the South Bend school but can reapply for admission following the suspension.


·         Connecticut, which has won two of the last eight national championships, would not qualify for the Big East tournament if the season ended today.


·         The nation's last undefeated team suffered its first blemish when Clemson fell to Maryland on Jan. 13. But 13 teams can still claim undefeated records in conference play: High Point (6-0, Big South), Winthrop (5-0, Big South), Wisconsin (6-0, Big Ten), VCU (9-0, Colonial), Memphis (6-0, C-USA), Pennsylvania (2-0, Ivy), Toledo (6-0, MAC), Oral Roberts (5-0, MCC), Oakland (5-0, MCC), Delaware State (7-0, MEAC), Holy Cross (6-0, Patriot), Florida (5-0, Southeastern), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (5-0, Southland).