Preview : (14) Tennessee at (19) Alabama Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa Watch: ESPN, Radio: CTSN When: Wednesday, December 29, 8:00 TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—
It’s here. Even as we find ourselves amidst another season facing problems related to the Covid pandemic, SEC play has arrived. Also arriving in Tuscaloosa will be Coach Rick Barnes’ 14th ranked Tennessee Volunteers seeking to avenge a couple of losses from last season at the hands of Alabama. The Tide took the first meeting between the two teams in Knoxville 71-63 and later defeated UT again in the SEC Tournament semifinals 72-68. Tennessee comes into tonight’s contest playing well having just defeated 6th ranked Arizona last week. Alabama, however is struggling regain the form of a team that had previously gone on the road (Seattle) to defeat then 3rd ranked Gonzaga and follow that up by winning a war with 10th ranked Houston in Tuscaloosa. Having said that, conference play-combined with the opportunity to refocus during the holiday break brings new excitement and optimism for a team that hit its stride at this very point a season ago. Alabama sits at 9-3 with some impressive wins on the resumè, but Head Coach Nate Oats seems more focused on fixing the problems on defense that have been exposed as of late. Oats was straight to the point as he stated, “We’ve given up too many blow-by’s for easy layups.”
There is no question that the backcourt combination of Jahvon Quinerly, JD Davison, Jaden Shackleford and Keon Ellis are perfectly capable of carrying Alabama offensively, but this same group has had trouble defending in the half court as of late and the task won’t be any easier tonight. Alabama has fallen to 53rd in defensive efficiency per KenPom. This stat alone proves just how vital that players like Herb Jones and John Petty Jr. were to the Tide’s success a season ago. For all the recent struggles against penetration, the Alabama backcourt has maintained solid defense on the perimeter and are only allowing opponents to shoot 29% from behind the arc. Tennessee is on pace to attempt more perimeter shots this season and have shot the 3 at a 33% clip thus far. That’s not exactly terrible, but it could be the only chink in the armor of a very balanced Tennessee offense that is beating opponents by 19 PPG on average. Alabama may be content to allow Tennessee more long range contested shots in hopes of grabbing long rebounds and getting out in transition.
Keys to Victory— ⁃ Half Court Defense: As mentioned earlier, the Crimson Tide backcourt unit simply has to defend better. Tennessee is 8th nationally in assists per game at just over 18 and 6th in assist to turnover ratio at 1.5. The Volunteers are well coached and tend to make the right decisions more often than not during penetration and half court sets. ⁃ Confidence: It’s been proven time and time again that the Alabama offense is a different animal when it comes out shooting the ball confidently from the start. The perimeter game will open the driving lanes and the defense is forced to pick its poison. This is when Alabama is at its best offensively, but making shots also provides the defense time to get set in the half court. ⁃ Turnovers: Alabama will need to be sound with the ball against a Tennessee defense that averages over 10 steals per game. On the other hand, the Crimson Tide will likely be aggressive and take some chances in the passing lanes in an effort to increase tempo and turn defense into offense. Players to Watch—
Tennessee’s sensational freshman G Kennedy Chandler comes in scoring 14 PPG and dishing out 5 assists per game on average. Noah Gurley has been an enigma so far for Alabama but Coach Oats has been adamant about expecting a break out from the Furman transfer. Noah has been great in practice recently so there is no better time than now. Final Thoughts—
Tennessee has the type of personnel and system that has given Alabama fits at times so far in this young season. The matchups and statistics may even favor the Volunteers at first glance, but I have a feeling that this game is coming at the perfect time. Alabama takes it to another gear when the opponent has a number in front of their name and this one shouldn’t be any different. The Crimson Tide have a home winning streak dating back to last season’s early loss to Western Kentucky. Playing in front of a packed crowd at Coleman Coliseum while feeling like it’s back is against the wall should be a recipe for success for this Alabama team, but it won’t be easy. Prediction: Alabama 69, Tennessee 67