Iron Bowl on the Hardwood preview: Things are different for Alabama and Auburn this year
Alabama and Auburn hate each other on the gridiron, and everybody knows it.
What outsiders might not know is that the hate extends year-round for the fans of the two schools, including basketball season. The Alabama Crimson Tide will travel to Auburn Arena to take on the Auburn Tigers, a recent top-tier power in SEC basketball.
Auburn basketball has steadily grown from a below-average team with a decent season sprinkled in every 10 years, to a powerful program with a recent Final Four run and NBA production.
A season after the Tigers’ magical 2018-2019 season under Bruce Pearl’s leadership, they went an incredible 25-6 during the regular season with a late-season peak similar to the year before. However, this time, a global pandemic shut down the tournament and ended the Tigers’ season early.
Alabama hires Nate Oats
Alabama fans, on the other hand, are worried about a National Championship game against Ohio State on Monday and do not have as much of an interest in this game as usual. Yet, there will still be plenty of Tide fans tuning in.
Head coach Nate Oats has only been at Alabama for two seasons, but the turnaround is underway and showing signs of things to come.
When Auburn started investing in basketball facilities, high-profile coaches and a new arena, Bama knew it couldn’t slip behind. So, not long after Auburn brought in Bruce Pearl, Alabama hired Avery Johnson.
Johnson was a good hire that just ended up not being a perfect fit, but the Tigers added some pressure by being the first team in the state to make it to the Final Four. This paved the way for Johnson to leave and Oats to come in.
The Alabama basketball team is now 3-0 in conference play under Oats this season, including wins over ranked Tennessee and a historically good Florida team.
The absence of the Jungle
On paper, Alabama should defeat Auburn with relative ease. However, Auburn is used to being the underdog and usually performs better when doubted. In a game that means so much to both fan bases, Auburn is missing one of its biggest weapons.
No, not Sharife Cooper, who the NCAA still hasn’t declared eligible or not, but the Jungle. That’s right, the student section for Auburn that makes Auburn Arena one of the toughest venues to play at in the entire country.
How powerful is the home-court advantage at Auburn Arena?
When playing in front of the Jungle the three previous seasons, Auburn’s record was 46-4. That is an incredible testament to the atmosphere inside at home.
With all of that being said, Alabama will not have to worry much about what Tide star John Petty calls “some of the best fans, probably, in the NCAA,” when discussing the Jungle.
With Bama hoops starting to look like a serious contender in the SEC, and Auburn struggling to get going without a true point guard, look for the Tide to take this game, especially with the Jungle not at full capacity.
The Iron Bowl on Hardwood will be this Saturday at 11:00 a.m. CT. Tune into ESPN 2 to watch the heated rivalry and see if Pearl’s Tigers get upset, or if Oats and company can cruise past their arch-rival.
Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.