Iron Bowl of Basketball: Previewing Round One on The Plains

Bruce Pearl during the game between George Mason University and the #15 Auburn Tigers at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Wednesday, Oct 26, 2022. Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

The Auburn vs. Alabama rivalry has been iconic for almost a century on the gridiron, but it is now beginning to enter the national scene on the basketball court as well. So much so that College GameDay is headed to The Plains for round one of the series this season. While the Tigers swept the Tide 2-0 last season, circumstances are quite different this year.

The obvious elephant (pun intended) in the room is that Alabama has perhaps the best team to ever take the court in school history. The Crimson Tide enters the matchup trying to get to 12-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1956, where they went undefeated in the SEC at a time when they only played 14 conference games.

On top of this, Auburn is simply not the team they were last season. Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, who gave the Crimson Tide fits last year, are playing in the NBA and to say the Tigers are missing their two stars from last year’s dream season would be a severe understatement. Across the Tigers two wins over the Tide last season, Smith accounted for 42 points. But while Auburn has struggled this year in comparison to last, they are still a dangerous team and Neville Arena is arguably the best home court advantage in college basketball.

While the Tigers have lost four of their last five and could use a win like this desperately, the pressure here is on Alabama. They are the ones considered to be arguably the best team in the nation. They are the ones who are entering a raucous environment against their most hated rival. Their coach is the one who has, perhaps foolishly, referred to this game as Auburn’s “Super Bowl”. This is a game you simply must win, and look the part while doing it.

Yes, Alabama is the significantly better team and has bigger goals this postseason. But Bruce Pearl has been there and done that. Nate Oats has not. While Auburn is having a down year (relative to recent expectations), they are a dangerous team and will have a rabid crowd to back them on Saturday afternoon. The Iron Bowl of Basketball is here to stay, and another chapter is about to be written. Time will tell who gets to write it.