Who: Alabama (6-3) vs. (7) Tennessee (7-0)
When: 5 pm CT, Jan. 2, 2021
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena; Knoxville, TN
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network
Alabama will face off against the seventh-ranked Tennessee Volunteers this Saturday, a much-anticipated matchup for a Crimson Tide team which sits at 6-3 and opened SEC play with a statement victory over Ole Miss. With John Petty back in the fold and Jahvon Quinerly looking better than ever after a 24-point explosion off the bench, Nate Oats and crew hope to outperform expectations against a top-tier talent that only evaded the Tide by one point last season.
For an Alabama team that got off to a rocky start after the Maui Invitational, a game against a top-ten opponent may be the true test of their mettle after they missed a chance to face the surging Houston Cougars due to COVID-19 cancellations. The Tide will look for the Herb Jones to get going early, as the quintessential hard-hat player will try to key in on Tennessee’s nation-leading defense alongside team scoring leader Jaden Shackleford. With an ever-rotating starting lineup, it may be hard to nail down the first five for the Tide, but increasing minutes for players like Joshua Primo, Keon Ellis, and James Rojas could lead to combinations which can counter Tennessee’s guard-heavy approach and defensive acumen. Jahvon Quinerly will have his work cut out for him, but given that he is coming off of a pair of double-digit scoring outings and a near double-double against East Tennessee State, Quinerly will try to ride the momentum with the keys to Oats’ offense. Alabama will again try to keep things interesting against the early frontrunners in the SEC. Guard play and matching Tennessee defensively are the keys to the game.
For Tennessee, beating Alabama again would cement them as the favorites within the SEC, as the Crimson Tide have been arguably their most interesting challenge over the past few years. Leaning on a dynamic, deep backcourt which includes senior Yves Pons and five-star recruits Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, the Volunteers have proven to be one of the most competitive defensive sides in college basketball, with numbers to back it up. Tennessee holds a significant edge in three-point percentage, and getting hot from range could unlock a major advantage for the Volunteers, especially if Alabama shoots like they have against other standout teams, particularly against Stanford in the Maui Invitational. Senior big man John Fulkerson may be working overtime defensively, as Alabama will look to take advantage of a height discrepancy in the starting lineup with both Herb Jones and Jordan Bruner. If Tennessee can play their typical three-and-D style to full effect on Saturday, this could prove a signature win for them as conference play gets fully underway.
Tennessee Players to Watch
G Yves Pons (8.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG. 0.9 APG)
F John Fulkerson (11.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
G Jaden Springer (11.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 APG)
G Santiago Vescovi (9.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.1 APG)
Alabama has struggled against other high-level teams early this year, but finding their stride in a blowout against Ole Miss may be the key to a competitive game on Saturday. Tennessee is a top-ten team for a reason, and their balance on the offensive end couples well with a suffocating defense that prioritizes the perimeter, where Alabama is at its strongest.
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