Niagara Gazette — In the midst of a non-conference schedule loaded with teams that went to the postseason last March, the Niagara Purple Eagles get no reprieve in their brief foray into league play.
Niagara (2-3) visits Iona (2-2) tonight (7 p.m., WWKB 1520 AM) in the first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game of the season.
The MAAC annually schedules its teams to play a pair of conference games in December, weeks before the rest of the country begins league play, but this is the first time since 2002 and the second time ever Niagara has played a MAAC game in December.
Iona won the MAAC regular season championship last year and received an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament after losing in the conference tournament to Loyola, which is Niagara's next MAAC opponent (Dec. 5).
Niagara coach Joe Mihalich's scheduling philosophy has always been to find games that will prepare his team for MAAC competition. With two NCAA tournament teams at the start of the conference schedule, Mihalich matched his team up with four other NCAA tournament teams in November and December.
Having beaten defending WAC champion New Mexico State at home and lost to defending Atlantic 10 champion St. Bonaventure in Rochester last weekend, Niagara still has America East champion Vermont and Notre Dame of the Big East on its upcoming schedule. The Purple Eagles have also already played Bucknell, an NIT team from last year, and Oregon State of the Pac 12.
"In my 14 years here, I don't think we've ever played so many good teams so early in the year," Mihalich said. "Hopefully it will make us better for later in the season."
Iona has won the last four meetings with Niagara, and though the Gaels lost their top two players from a year ago, point guard Scott Machado and forward Michael Glover, they currently boast two of the top scorers in the country in Lamont Jones (25.8 ppg) and Sean Armand (21.3 ppg).