No. 4 Alabama and No. 15 Gonzaga have played two of the toughest nonconference schedules in college basketball so far this season. Saturday, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs will face each other in the C.M. Newton Classic on CBS in one last showcase game before conference play starts for both teams after Christmas.
Alabama surged from a preseason ranking of No. 20 into the top five after its win at then-No. 1 Houston last week and also has impressive wins over Michigan State, North Carolina and Memphis on its resume. The Crimson Tide's only loss this season came against No. 2 UConn, which is among only a handful of unbeaten teams remaining in college basketball.
Gonzaga's ride has been a bit bumpier with the Zags already suffering three losses this season after beginning the year ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25. But the Zags are by no means a pushover. With wins against Michigan State, Kentucky and Xavier on its resume, Gonzaga remains on track for another high seed in the NCAA Tournament -- even if this team hasn't been quite as impressive as coach Mark Few's last couple squads so far.
Though the game will technically be played on a neutral court inside Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, the Crimson Tide should have a decisive advantage in terms of fan support. The roles were reversed last season when these teams played in Seattle and Alabama won 91-82. Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford led the way with 28 points in the game, but Alabama will need another source of offense this time around. With Shackelford now playing professionally, the Crimson Tide have become particularly reliant on the nation's No. 4 ranked freshman class early this season. Lengthy forwards Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney have played beyond their years so far this season, and guards Jaden Bradley and Rylen Griffen have offered key contributions as well.
Gonzaga counters with a veteran squad led by senior superstar Drew Timme, who is averaging a career-best 20.5 points through 11 games. Timme is on track to surpass 2,000 career points this season, but the Zags will need major contributions from fellow veterans Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Anton Watson in order to reach their full potential. A win over Alabama would go a long way toward validating this Gonzaga team as a national contender as it prepares to fade into the relative oblivion of West Coast Conference play over the coming months.
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How to watch Gonzaga vs. Alabama live
Date: Saturday, Dec. 16 | Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: Legacy Arena -- Birmingham, Alabama
TV: CBS | Live stream: CBSSports.com, CBS Sports App (Free)
Gonzaga vs. Alabama prediction, picks
Alabama beat Gonzaga 91-82 in Seattle last season. That Crimson Tide team was less-talented and far more erratic than this year's version. Gonzaga is still trying to figure out its collective identity beyond the stardom of Drew Timme. With this year's game being played in Birmingham, the Crimson Tide should have the edge in terms of fan support. Though young, this Alabama team proved last week in a road win over Houston that it can handle pressure situations. Prediction: Alabama -1.5 (Cobb)
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