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What to Know: 8-Seed Tennessee vs. 9-Seed Alabama

Photo by Kenny Richmond/RTI

The regular season is over. It’s postseason play, and Tennessee likely needs to run the table in the SEC Tournament if they want to make it into the NCAA Tournament. Step one is finding a way to defeat their first opponent on Thursday.

The eight-seed Vols (17-14, 9-9 SEC) take on nine-seed Alabama (16-15, 8-10) at 1:00 PM Eastern in Nashville on Thursday in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The winner of Thursday’s contest will have to face one-seed Kentucky on Friday afternoon.

The last time Tennessee and Alabama faced off, the Vols won a thriller in Tuscaloosa. The Vols trailed by as much as 15 points on the road, but they came back and defeated the Tide 69-68 to end a three-game losing streak.

Tennessee is 69-55 all-time in the SEC Tournament, but they’re just 34-40 since the tournament renewed in 1979. The Vols have made it to the finals the last two seasons, but UT hasn’t won the tournament title since that 1979 season.

Alabama is led by First Team All-SEC point guard Kira Lewis Jr. (18.5 PPG, 5.2 APG) and Second Team All-SEC wing John Petty (14.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG). The Vols will counter the Tide’s dynamic duo with SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons (10.8 PPG, 2.4 BPG) and Second Team All-SEC forward John Fulkerson (13.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG).

The Vols are 6-4 in the SEC Tournament under Rick Barnes, and UT has won at least one game in the conference tournament in six of the last seven years.

Here’s a look at the most important things to know and watch for during Thursday’s SEC Tournament match-up between Tennessee and Alabama on the SEC Network.

Bad History

Tennessee has not had a lot of success against Alabama in the SEC Tournament.

All-time, the Vols are just 5-10 when they’ve faced the Tide in the conference tournament, and they’ve been even worse since the SEC Tournament was renewed in 1979. Since then, Tennessee is just 2-7 against Alabama in the tournament.

The last time the Vols and Tide played in the SEC Tournament was back in 2013, and Alabama won 58-48 in an ugly contest. Tennessee’s last win against Bama in the conference tournament came in 2009, an 86-62 thrashing.

Since 1979, Tennessee has beaten Alabama in 1996 (77-65) and in 2009 in the SEC Tournament. Otherwise, they’ve lost to the Tide in 1982, 1987, 1991, 1995, 2002, 2004, and 2013

Not Hot

Alabama enters Thursday’s match-up on a bit of a cold streak, and they’ve not been playing their best basketball as of late.

The Tide ended the regular season on a two-game losing streak, and they lost eight of their final 12 games of the regular season. After a 77-74 victory over Kansas State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on January 25th, Alabama was 12-7 overall on the season and had just won their fourth-straight game. But after that point, the Tide stumbled to a 16-15 overall mark and just an 8-10 SEC record.

In Alabama’s first 19 games of the season, they were averaging 82.8 points and shooting 44.2 percent from the field while holding opponents to 76.6 points a contest. But in their final 12 games of the season, the Tide gave up 82.8 points a game while scoring 80.8 points themselves, shooting 42.9 percent overall.

Tennessee didn’t exactly close out the season in impressive fashion either, falling 85-63 to Auburn on Senior Day on Saturday. But before that, the Vols grabbed impressive victories at home over Florida and on the road in Rupp Arena against Kentucky. Much like Alabama, the Vols were 12-6 after a 73-48 beat down of Ole Miss at home on January 21st. Tennessee would proceed to go just 5-8 to close out the regular season, however.

Ready for a Record

Yves Pons, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, blocked at least one shot attempt in every game Tennessee played during the regular season. If he keeps up that streak on Thursday, he’ll own a single-season UT record.

Pons needs just one more block to surpass CJ Black’s school record for most blocks in a season. The junior forward tied the record with two blocks against Auburn, bringing his season total to 73. His 2.35 blocks per game is the second-highest average in a single season in school history currently, trailing only Black’s 2.52 blocks a game in the 1997-98 season.

The 73 blocks Pons has recorded this season are the most by a junior in school history, and his 2.35 blocks a game this season are also the most by a junior.

Pons currently has more blocks than 53 Division I schools do as a team this season. He has more than teams like Tulsa, Northern Iowa, Appalachian State, BYU, Loyola-Chicago, and Chattanooga have totaled all year.

No Fans

The NCAA announced on Wednesday that this year’s NCAA Tournament will be played without fans in attendance because of health concerns connected to the coronavirus outbreak. The only people at the game other than the players and coaches will be “essential staff” and family members.

On Wednesday evening, the SEC announced the same will be the case for the remainder of the SEC Tournament from Thursday through Sunday.

Wednesday’s game proceeded as normal with fans allowed to attend the opening round of games in Nashville. But the league announced on Wednesday night that the remainder of the tournament will be played only in front of essential staff and a number of family members for both teams.

Last year, Tennessee saw an average attendance of 19,987 fans in their three SEC Tournament games against Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Auburn.

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