For the second time in eight months, No. 10 Alabama and Iona will face each other on a neutral court.
Not quite as much will be at stake this time when the Crimson Tide (4-0) and Gaels (5-0) square off on Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The last time the two programs met, the right to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament was on the line when Alabama won 68-55. This time the winner moves on to the semifinals of the ESPN Events Invitational against either Belmont or Drake on Friday.
After Iona ripped North Alabama 81-65 on Saturday to win its second game in as many days in the MAAC-ASUN Challenge, also held in Lake Buena Vista (near Orlando), veteran coach Rick Pitino said he didn’t think there would be a revenge factor for the returning players on his squad.
“It’s all about execution,” he said.
Newcomer Tyson Jolly, an SMU transfer averaging 16.0 points, said, “I feel like this is a great opportunity.”
Nelly Junior Joseph (16.6 points, 7.2 rebounds this season) is the only Gael who started against Alabama in March who returned for 2021-22. Key reserves Dylan van Eyck (12.0) and Ryan Myers (3.6) also are back, but Pitino specifically noted he wants to get Myers going offensively.
Louisville transfer Quinn Slazinski, who is averaging 10.8 points, has been a difference-maker for the Gaels.
“The great thing about being 5-0, if I can just be objective,” Pitino said, “is we’re nowhere near our potential.
“Anytime you have new players,” he added, “it takes a little bit of time. We’re taking baby steps to get better. The one common denominator that’s been consistent is the way we defend the three. … We’re doing a nice job in that area almost every game.”
Iona has limited opponents to 23.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That is where up-tempo Alabama usually excels, although the Crimson Tide’s percentage from beyond the arc is only 31.6 this season, compared to 35.2 last year.
Pitino said, “Alabama is like some of my Louisville teams. You can change the parts, but you’re still going to have a great team. It’s their system.
“They’re not going to take (many) 2-point shots,” he added. “They’re going to the rim, they’re going to get fouled and they’re going to shoot threes.”
Alabama has been idle since an 86-59 win over Oakland last Friday.
“We had the offensive game against South Dakota State (a 104-88 win), we had the better defensive game against South Alabama (a 73-68 win) and now we’ve finally got both sides of the ball clicking at the same time,” Tide coach Nate Oats said after the game. “If you want to be an elite team, you want to be a top-25 team, you can’t just play one side of the ball.”
Alabama has three double-figure scorers this season who played in the previous meeting with Iona. They are Jaden Shackelford (19.5), Jahvon Quinerly (15.5) and Keon Ellis (14.5).
Alabama’s Juwan Gary (lower leg) and Iona’s Elijah Joiner (knee) both are questionable.
–Field Level Media