Rick Pitino has made headlines across the internet. From small news websites to ESPN, everyone’s been talking about him. But has the college basketball veteran made a difference for the Iona College Gaels? It’s tough to fill the shoes of someone like Tim Cleuss. Cleuss coached the men’s basketball team for 10 years before stepping down from the position due to undisclosed health problems. Pitino looks to be able to fill them so far, earning a 5-3 record after eight games so far. Cleuss had a 3-5 record after eight games last season.
One of the major problems plaguing the Gaels is their habit to fall behind in the second half. This was a problem for them last season. While it is getting better, it still rears its head from time to time.
A problem with momentum
This problem was evident from the beginning of last season to the end of it. When the Gaels went against UConn in the early part of the season, they kept up with the Huskies in the first half with a score of 35-36 to UConn. They couldn’t continue that momentum in the second half and got outscored 44-27 to lose the game 80-62. Fast forward to the last game of the regular season against Saint Peter’s. Iona keeps up with their opponent in the first half, 36-36. Come second half and they fail to carry the momentum, even by a little. They ended up falling to the Peacocks 32-29 to lose the game 68-65.
Looking at this season, we can see shades of the past amongst the losses suffered so far. It shows best in their first game of the season against Seton Hall, where they lost 64-86. In the first half, Iona was up on the Pirates 37-35. It was not enough though as Seton Hall proceeded to score 51 to Iona’s 27.
Pitino’s improvements so far
Pitino is doing a good job getting rid of this common occurrence. If we look at a couple of games they won during the season so far, we can see the change Pitino is trying to instill into the team is coming to surface. The first example is their 82-74 win against Hofstra. The first half the Gaels built momentum and kept even with Hofstra at 34-34 and then carried that momentum into the second half and outscored them 48-40. They did the same against Coppin State, with a first half score of 36-31 and a much better second half score of 49-34. The best example of the Gaels being able to build momentum and keep it into the second half was their almost 30-point blowout against Fairfield, where scored 32-22 in the first half and 38-30 in the second.
A look at Pitino’s stats
We can get a more concrete look at Pitino’s improvements if we look at the stats. In the first eight games of the season, average offensive rebounds are up by two rebounds a game, average assists are up by almost two and average turnovers are down by almost two. Pitino’s additions to the team are helping his vision come to reality too. Freshman Nelly Junior Joseph has a .565 field goal percentage and leads the team in offensive rebounds with 29. Junior Berrick JeanLouis has a .478 field goal percentage and is second in the team in defensive rebounds with 34.
But the real leaders of this change are those from Cleuss’ team. Seniors Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist are leading the team in performances, with Ross leading the team with 178 points with Gist leading the team with 25 assists. Senior Dylan van Eyck is a major cog in the well-oiled machine as well, leading the team with 38 defensive rebounds.
There’s still 11 games in the regular season for Pitino to prove himself more and with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to reschedule games every so often, anything can happen. But as it stands, the record and stats don’t lie; Pitino is doing a fine job filling the shoes of Cleuss and seems to be leading the Gaels to a bright future.