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INDIANAPOLIS — Alabama (24-6) will play its first NCAA tournament game since 2018 against Iona (12-5), coached by a familiar Crimson Tide nemesis, Rick Pitino.

The Gaels are the No. 15 seed in the East Regional. Alabama, the No. 2 seed, is a 17-point favorite. Iona had two lengthy COVID-19 related layoffs during the season but qualified for the NCAA tournament by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic tournament. The status of Alabama forward Josh Primo is uncertain as he continues to rehabilitate a sprained knee.

The basics

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

TV: TBS. On Dish, TBS is channel 139; On DirecTV, TBS is channel 247. The announcers are scheduled to be Andrew Catalon (play-by-play), Steve Lappas (analyst) and A.J. Ross (reporter).

Outlook

How Alabama can win: The Crimson Tide is deeper and more athletic than Iona. With consistent defense, Alabama can create offensive opportunities. And with an inside size advantage, UA should be able to generate second-chance points.

How Iona can win: Keep the ball in the hands of senior guards Isaiah Ross and Asante Gist and get a combined 30 to 35 points from the two. Hope that Alabama is flat, possibly from looking ahead to a Monday game against the Maryland-UConn winner in the second round. Hope that there is a “Pitino Voodoo” effect, although that seems to be more of a fan issue than a problem for players who were born 15 years after Pitino’s Providence team ousted Alabama from the 1987 NCAA tournament

One key factor: With the NCAA bubble in effect, no one knows what the limited crowds will be like. Normal NCAA crowds usually get behind a Cinderella team and gives it a boost. Without extra motivation, Iona will have to be cautious about the “well, we got here” mentality.

Prediction: Alabama 86, Iona 60. The Crimson Tide should not go down in NCAA Upset Lore in this one.

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This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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