Let’s dance! Alabama’s NCAA Tournament run begins this Saturday as the Tide will come into Hinkle Field House as the undisputed SEC Champions having won the regular season, the SEC Tournament and therefore earning a 2 seed. Alabama will meet the Iona Gaels of the MAAC coached by the legendary Rick Pitino. Tip is set for 3:00 Saturday on TBS.
The Opponent: Alabama comes in to this match up the prohibited favorites with a spread of 17. That doesn’t mean Iona should be taken lightly, however. They have championship pedigree with Pitino at the helm, but the Gaels have also reached the Dance for 4 consecutive years. Though Alabama is the more talented and athletic team, it’s possible that Iona could have an advantage in the mental preparedness department. Having said that, it’s hard to gauge Iona due to the mountain of cancellations brought on by Covid that the program faced this season. They did perform well against subpar competition in the MAAC and rank inside the top 3 of the conference in most offensive stats. KenPom paints a different picture, however. The Gaels have hovered around 200 in both the adjusted offense and defense categories all season. Scoring should not be an issue for Alabama unless it’s just an ice cold day from the field.
Players to Watch: Iona is led by Senior G Isaiah Ross who scores about 18 PPG. That’s nothing to scoff at. He’s capable of carrying the team offensively so Alabama will have to keep Ross in check.
Though the offense of Jahvon Quinerly and the leadership of Herbert Jones have been key to Alabama’s success of late...I have to go with John Petty. Bama is perfectly capable of making to the Sweet 16 with an average John Petty, but the team simply can’t perform near its ceiling unless Petty is scoring at a high level. His debut against Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament was one to remember. The Tide will need something similar to that John Petty if it has any aspirations of reaching the Final 4. Iona could be just the tune up he needs to get it going if things go the way they should.
My Thoughts: Strictly from a talent standpoint, Iona may be the worst team that Alabama has played since East Tennessee State. This is still the NCAA Tournament and that man is still named Rick Pitino, however. Iona has seniors that have played good basketball this year. They’re not scared of this moment. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a somewhat close score at half. Ultimately, Alabama’s seniors will pull the team together and steer them in the right direction. I could see the Tide coming out and making a bold statement. As soon as the nerves settle, I believe that’s what we get. Bama advances.
Prediction: Alabama 85, Iona 68