MAAC Championship Odds & Pick: Bet Iona To Punch NCAA Tournament Ticket Over Fairfield

MAAC Championship Odds & Pick: Bet Iona To Punch NCAA Tournament Ticket Over Fairfield article feature image

Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images. Pictured: Rick Pitino leads the Iona Gaels.

  • Rick Pitino is on the cusp of leading his fifth team to the NCAA Tournament, as his Iona Gaels are a big favorite over Fairfield on Saturday night.
  • Fairfield was just 8-16 entering the MAAC Tournament, but has ripped off three straight wins.
  • Kyle Remillard breaks down Iona vs. Fairfield and makes his pick below.

MAAC Championship

Iona vs. Fairfield Odds

Iona Odds-8
Fairfield Odds+8 
Moneyline-385 / +300
Time | TV4 p.m. ET | ESPNU
Odds as of Saturday morning and via Parx.

Rick Pitino has stolen the spotlight in the MAAC, as his Iona Gaels have moved on to the conference championship in impressive fashion. One day shy of a year after hiring Pitino, Iona is now 40 minutes away from becoming the fifth team he has guided to the Big Dance.

The Gaels dominated Quinnipiac, outlasted No. 1-seeded Siena and then took care of business Friday against Niagara. They open as solid 8.5-point favorites against the Fairfield Stags who are the surprise of the tournament.

Fairfield entered the tournament with a record of 7-16 before winning three games in a row. The Stags won in overtime in the opening round against Manhattan and used the momentum to dismantle Monmouth, 79-60. On Friday, they played the defensive-minded Saint Peter’s Peacocks and took them down, 52-47.

They will have their hands full with the Gaels, who beat them 70-42 to begin the year. While Fairfield did get their revenge the next day, I’m anticipating the final to replicate that first matchup.

When Fairfield Has the Ball

Fairfield won just one of its first 10 games to begin the season. How the Stags got from there to the verge of a championship and NCAA Tournament bid is a bit of a mystery.

The Stags are scoring just 62.2 points per game, lowest in the conference and better than just 10 teams in the entire country. They rank 290th in the country in offensive efficiency, scoring 95.9 points per every 100 possessions, according to KenPom. They convert on just 45.8% of effective field goals, and shoot 31.9% from three-point range. It’s a bad offense, is what I'm getting at here.

They have two players who average double-digits in scoring: Taj Benning and Jake Wojcik. Benning is averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game, while Wojcik is putting up 13.5 PPG and 3.2 RPG. After those two, the Stags don’t have many reliable scoring options to call upon when they need a bucket.

In two of their three tournament wins, Fairfield has not eclipsed 60 points, including an extra five minutes of overtime against Manhattan. That’s unlikely to get it done against an Iona team that is the most efficient offense in the MAAC, averaging 73.0 points per contest.

When Iona Has the Ball

The Gaels had to sit out for 51 days earlier in the season due to COVID protocols, then another 17 just before the conference tournament started. That didn’t stop Pitino from having his team ready to go right from the opening tip. In conference play, the Gaels have an adjusted efficiency margin of 11.0, tops in the MAAC. They convert on 53.1% of their field-goal attempts and 37.2% of their three-point attempts. They’ve scored 80+ points in five of their 16 games this season. For perspective, Fairfield has scored 80+ just once in 27 games.

Iona is led by senior Isiah Ross, who is averaging 18.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He’s complemented by Asante Gist and Nelly Junior Joseph, both of whom average about a dozen points per game. Those three players have contributed 56.7% of the Gaels' total points this season.

The first time these two teams played it was a 70-42 blowout for Iona. Ross scored 30 points and the Gaels shot 45.9% while holding Fairfield to just 27.5% from the field. Fairfield turned the ball over 19 times and converted on just 4-of-16 attempts from behind the arc. It was a different story when the two teams met again the very next day. Iona came out flat and lost 67-52. The Gaels shot just 32.7% for the game and hit 3-of-14 three-point attempts.

Betting Analysis & Pick

Pitino has been the storyline of the season for the MAAC and he’s ready to take his fifth different team to the NCAA Tournament. Iona owns the advantage over Fairfield in nearly every statistical category. The biggest strength of Fairfield is its ability to rebound, and even there the Gaels own the highest offensive rebound percentage in the conference. Ross is set to have another big game against a subpar defense and the Stags don’t have the weapons on offense to keep up.

Eight is a big number to be laying in a championship game, but I make this number closer to 10. I see the Gaels rolling with Pitino keeping his foot on the gas pedal all game long.

Pick: Iona -8 (Play up to -9.5)

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