Who: (2) Alabama (24-6, 16-2 SEC) vs (15) Iona (12-5, 6-3 MAAC)
When: 3pm CT, Saturday, March 20, 2021
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network (play-by-play: Chris Stewart, analyst: Bryan Passink)
The 2-seed Alabama Crimson Tide will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018 on Saturday in Hinkle Fieldhouse, where it is matched up with the 15-seed Iona Gaels. The number 2 seed given to the Crimson Tide is tied for the highest seeding in program history, while the Gaels have appeared in the previous four NCAA Tournaments.
Alabama is entering this tournament red hot, being winners of six in a row and 9 of their last 10. The last three victories came from the Tide’s SEC Tournament run, which concluded Sunday in an emotional, gritty, and hard fought win over LSU for their first SEC Tournament Championship since 1991. Over the course of the tournament, Jahvon Quinerly exploded onto the national scene, scoring at least 14 points in every game and seemingly carrying Alabama through various portions of every game. Herb Jones, recently named a 3rd Team All-American by the Associated Press, looked like the unstoppable two-way force he has been all year. Combine all of that with the never-ending intensity on the defensive end and the 3-point shooting improvement from Jaden Shackelford lately, and the Tide looks like a scary foe for anyone it will face in the coming weeks.
The Iona Gaels are led by a very familiar face at head coach. That face would be Rick Pitino, national championship winning coach at both Kentucky and Louisville. Pitino’s squad has had a very unusual season. The Gaels did not play a game from December 23 until February 12 due to COVID-19 cancellations, and had a total of 9 games cancelled throughout the season. In the games they were able to play, Iona was able to look somewhat impressive against low quality competition. According to KenPom, Iona ranked 210th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 161st in adjusted defensive efficiency. In relation to their competition throughout the year, however, Iona ranked 2nd in the MAAC in points per game. They also ranked top-2 in the MAAC in field goal %, 3-point %, and rebounds. They are led in scoring by Isaiah Ross, a 6’4 senior guard who led the MAAC in scoring at 18.4 points per game. In order for Alabama to get a win, they will have to contain Ross and make sure the rebounding effort is treated with urgency.
Iona Players to Watch
G Isaiah Ross (18.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.5 APG)
G Asante Gist (13.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 3.7 APG)
F Nelly Junior Joseph (11.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.3 APG)
G Ryan Myers (6.1 PPG, 1.0 APG, 45.2 3PT%)
It is no secret that Alabama is more talented than Iona. Rick Pitino coaching on the other end is always intimidating, but national coach of the year finalist Nate Oats, as well as the senior leaders in Jones, John Petty, and Jordan Bruner will have this team motivated and ready to play loose. Alabama likes to play much faster than Iona, as seen by Iona’s ranking of 164th in possessions per game, and Alabama will be able to use this pace to their advantage, while the defense shuts down Ross. The Tide should roll over Iona, advancing to the Round of 32.
Alabama – 83
Iona – 68
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