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#pounditTuesday, August 3, 2021

Rick Pitino makes history as Iona clinches surprise tournament bid

Rick Pitino

The Iona Gaels, coached by Rick Pitino, are going dancing.

The Gaels, who were the ninth seed in the MAAC Tournament, defeated Fairfield 60-51 on Saturday to secure the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It’s quite the story for multiple reasons, among them Pitino joining elite company in taking a fifth different school to the Big Dance.

Iona’s season has been marked by multiple COVID-19 pauses. The Gaels didn’t play any games between Dec. 23 and Feb. 12, but won the conference tournament anyway. In fact, their low seeding was not because the team struggled, but because they entered the tournament having played only nine conference games.

Pitino has been embroiled in multiple NCAA scandals, which cost him his job at Louisville and essentially forced him into exile in the Greek league. This was his first year as coach at Iona, and the team had to overcome a lot of hurdles to get where they did Saturday. Like him or not, there’s a reason Pitino is regarded as one of the best coaches in the business.

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