By now it is pretty obvious that Alabama has become the football capital of the world. In the last seven years the winner of the Iron Bowl has gone on to play for the national championship in six of those seasons, and won the national championship in five of those seasons.
Basketball has always been an afterthought in this state, but with the hires of Bruce Pearl at Auburn, Avery Johnson at Alabama, a couple of nationally ranked recruiting classes, UAB upsetting Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and winning 26 games a year ago, it has the state buzzing about the roundball.
The Blazers and Tigers have met 18 times on the hardwood with UAB winning 11 of those matchups. They first met in 1982 and played 17 more times in the next two decades until the series was cancelled in 1999.
The Blazers and Crimson Tide have met only once and it wasn’t on purpose. They met in the NIT in March of 1993 at Coleman Coliseum with UAB wining 58-56. Since then, they have never played each other again.
Last year Auburn and UAB agreed to a 4-game series. Starting out in 2015 with a game in Auburn, 2016 at Bartow, 2017 back in Auburn, and finally 2018 at the BJCC. After 17 years they are back playing each other again.
Auburn won the game in 2015 in a thriller 75-74. Many could credit Bruce Pearl for making the series happen, who knows that playing in-state games are important. Pearl was known at Tennessee for playing home-and-homes with Memphis and Middle Tennessee St.
Earlier this month at an event hosted by the Birmingham Tip Off Club and KnightEady, Pearl said “I’ve always played in-state and always believed in playing in-state. The reason why an SEC team doesn’t play UAB is they are afraid of getting beat, that’s the bottom line.”
At that same event Avery Johnson, head coach for the Crimson Tide, said “We go to Texas, we go to Oregon, and we play in Birmingham against Clemson. We feel really good about our non-conference schedule. As far as talks about playing some of the other in-state programs, that’s a decision for our athletic director and our president.” Johnson also added that those decisions were “above his pay-grade.”
Rob Ehsan, head coach for UAB added, “We talk to everybody in the SEC. I’ve said this numerous times, the more teams to play in-state, whether it’s us, Auburn, Alabama, Samford, the better for everybody.” Jokingly he added, “We’ll be ready to play Samford, when Alabama is ready to play us. UAB and Auburn playing is just great for the state.” Three head coaches with three different responses on playing in-state teams.
Here are four reasons why UAB and Auburn playing is great for basketball in the state of Alabama.
1. Bragging Rights
When it comes to basketball, what program is the state’s best? Last year you could have made a strong argument that UAB was the best Division 1 basketball team in the state of Alabama. Does Alabama and Auburn getting two nationally ranked recruiting classes for 2017 mean they are the best? Or does Auburn beating UAB last year mean they reigned supreme when it came to basketball in the state of Alabama?
It’s pretty simple if all the teams play, then the results on the court speak for themselves. Also, fanbases love talking smack to the other and knowing that for 365 days (or sooner in the SEC) their team was better than yours. It’s what makes college sports so great, the fans. It could give all fanbases something to look forward to. Playing the games on the court can easily decide who really is the best team in the state.
2. It Makes Basketball a Priority
Alabama and Auburn are two of the most storied programs in college football history. Competing with them is hard for any sport, but one way to show that basketball is a priority in this state is have the in-state teams play. Wouldn’t fans rather see Alabama, Auburn, and UAB play each other than play some Division II cupcake?
Let the Crimson Tide travel to Bartow, or the Blazers travel to Tuscaloosa. So much more intrigue, so many more storylines. Or how bout this, UAB vs Alabama in the 2017 Vulcan Classic at the BJCC. Seems as if Alabama is content with playing in Birmingham and they wouldn’t have to look very far for a team that could make that trip to the BJCC.
Auburn and Alabama both play each other twice due to the SEC conference schedule, and with those recruiting classes coming in, the Iron Bowl of basketball got a whole lot more interesting.
With both the Tigers and Crimson Tide already playing each other, would it really be that hard for them to schedule the Blazers in the non-conference? Doing this would show that all teams are willing to make basketball a priority.
3. Creates Storylines
If Alabama and UAB agreed to play a home-and-home or play in Birmingham, it would instantly generate attention from the local media, fanbases, and schools. So many storylines would come out of it.
The game between Auburn and UAB this year is a perfect example. The Blazers are seeking revenge from their 1-point loss in the opening game a year ago. The Tigers are trying to add to an impressive start to the season already having a win over Texas Tech.
How will the Blazers matchup with Auburn’s impressive freshmen? Can UAB prove that the loss to Furman was a fluke and beat Auburn and show everyone they still have high expectations this season?
These are just a few storylines that this in-state game generates. Playing these games is also important to the players. Most of these guys have been playing basketball with each other for awhile, whether in AAU or high school, so it would be another opportunity for them to play against one another.
4. Lasting Moments
In any rivalry series you have a handful of plays that are memorable and stick out. Think about the Iron Bowl in 2010, The Kick-Six, the Ohio State-Michigan game this past weekend, etc. Those are just a couple of examples of plays that stand out in rivalries that are full of ionic endings, moments, and plays.
If Auburn, Alabama, and UAB all played regularly they too could add plays that soon would not be forgotten. Whether it’s Dazon Ingram hitting a buzzer beating 3-pointer, William Lee with a game-saving block, or Danjel Purifoy with a monster dunk, these could all be moments that go down in their program’s history and never be forgotten.
Just ask TJ Lang last year as he hit a 3-pointer with 16.3 seconds left to propel the Tigers to the win over the Blazers. The teams hadn’t played in 17 years and the first game back was a thriller. If that doesn’t show they should play more often, I don’t know what else does.
Rivalry games are made for epic moments, and if these teams played more often the lasting moments would live forever.
Auburn and UAB are set to battle in Bartow this Saturday night at 7:30. Conveniently, the game is the same day as the SEC Championship. Basketball just can’t get out of the shadow of football.
Auburn is not in that game, so many fans will make the trek up highway 280, and a lot of fans here in Birmingham will attend the game. With rumors going around that there have been more tickets sold than when UAB hosted North Carolina, it is sure to be an electric atmosphere.
One thing is for sure come Saturday night, bragging rights will be on the line, basketball is a priority, there are storylines, and if we are lucky there will be a lasting moment.
What the Blazers and Tigers are really doing Saturday night is advancing the game of basketball in this state, and that is truly a win for us all.