After 26 consecutive seasons without a meeting, the Boston University Terriers will square off against the Gaels of Iona College for the second time in less than nine months. You can thank ESPN BracketBusters for that. The Terriers drew Iona as their opponent for the Feb. 21 mid-major extravaganza, earning a 63-57 result at The Roof with the help of freshman forward Jake O'Brien, who blocked shots to end each of the Gaels' final two possessions.
Although each team has competed just three times since last winter's BracketBuster showdown, both teams present significantly different looks. Most notable, of course, is the changing of the guard in Boston, as Patrick Chambers has spent the past several months preparing for his first game as a Division-I head coach, but there are several reasons why this game should be more than merely a repeat of last year's tightly contested matchup.
The Terriers travel to New Rochelle, NY, with fan expectations of a new, up-tempo style of play. But BU basketball program isn't alone in pressing fast-forward: Iona head coach Kevin Willard has openly remarked about his desire to push the pace this season. With defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Scott Machado running the show, the Gaels have the point guard they need to implement that change.
Surrounding Machado is a mixture of new faces and veterans, several of whom are adjusting to new roles. Seven-footer Jonathan Huffman has added 20 pounds to his frame, intending to spend more time around the rim. Power forward Alejo Rodriguez is expected to make a major impact this season but will have to deal with an ankle injury that may limit him. While all five Iona starters should see reasonable amounts of playing time, Willard is prepared to mix and match throughout the game, cycling through the entire roster in order to identify effective units and keep his players fresh.
In contrast, the Terriers' bench is somehow even shorter than last season. Forward Scott Brittain and guard B.J. Bailey are both sidelined by concussions, and guard Corey Lowe will be playing with a tender foot. BU has only ten healthy players capable of playing, two of whom are walk-ons. The seventh and eighth players in the rotation are Sherrod Smith and Valdas Sirutis, respectively, neither of whom earned anything approaching regular playing time last season.
While the Terriers' roster may not have much in reserve, its strength is undoubtedly front-line talent. Both John Holland and Corey Lowe were included in the America East Preseason All-Conference Team; Iona, on the other hand, had no players named to any of the three Preseason All-MAAC Teams. If the Terrier starters can stay out of foul trouble and handle a few extra minutes of playing time, the impact of that difference in talent becomes more pronounced.
Tonight's game offers firsts for more than just Chambers. Tyler Morris and Carlos Strong return to the court for the first time since injuries ended their 2008-09 seasons prematurely. BU opens its season against a MAAC opponent for the first time since the fall of 2000; Iona hasn't began with an AE opponent since current MAAC member Canisius hosted the Gaels 23 years ago.
Last but not least, the most important first for both Iona and BU is also the most obvious: tonight's game marks a new campaign for each team. While conference seasons and early-March tournaments may hold more weight, the road to postseason play -- and to whatever successes each team has in mind -- begins now.
Projected starting lineups:
G Corey Lowe, 17.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.1 APG
G Carlos Strong, 6.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.8 APG
F/G John Holland, 18.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG
F Jake O'Brien, 12.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG
C Jeff Pelage, 3.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.5 BPG
G Scott Machado, 9.3 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.3 RPG
G Milan Prodanovic, 6.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG
G Rashon Dwight, 5.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.5 APG
F Alejo Rodriguez, 4.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.5 BPG
F Jonathan Huffman, 6.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.6 BPG
Injured Terriers hobbling into opener
Men's basketball kicks off season against Iona