No. 7 Tennessee returns home following its first game of conference play to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Vols’ first home game on the conference schedule. Tipoff on Saturday evening inside of Thompson-Boling is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The Vols (7-0, 1-0 SEC) enter the contest coming off of a 20-point win against No. 12 Missouri in Columbia. A dominant defensive performance led to the win, as Tennessee held the Tigers (6-1, 0-1 SEC) to just .364 shooting from the field and forced 21 turnovers. Santiago Vescovi scored a team-high 15 points while Yves Pons chipped in 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked a season-high four shots.
Alabama (6-3, 1-0) beat Ole Miss 82-64 in its last game out. The Tide led the Rebels from start-to-finish and improved to 6-0 this season when scoring 80 or more points in a contest. Jahvon Quinerly led all scorers with a career-best 24 points. John Petty Jr. (13) and Alex Reese (10) came off the bench and finished in double figures points, while Jaden Shackelford led the Tide in rebounds with seven.
Alabama leads the all-time series with Tennessee 79-70, but the Vols are 47-22 against the Crimson Tide when the game has been played in Knoxville. Tennessee has won the last two meetings.
Vols head coach Rick Barnes was once an assistant coach at Alabama during the 1985-86 season under Wimp Sanderson. After Barnes’ lone season in Tuscaloosa, he moved on to Ohio State to work as an assistant coach under Gary Williams. Barnes is 2-3 against Alabama in his coaching career.
A win over Alabama would give the Vols three straight victories over the Crimson Tide and pull Barnes within two wins shy of tying Phog Allen and Don Haskins for 20th on the all-time Division I wins list.
The Rocky Top Insider team makes their picks for Tennessee’s matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributor Blake Von Hagen share their predictions for the Vols’ first home conference game of the season.
Alabama will be the toughest test for Tennessee’s perimeter defense to this point in the season. The Crimson Tide play at the fourth-fastest pace in the country and want to attempt as many three-point shots as possible over the course of 40 minutes. They’re attempting 31.0 three’s per game, the most in the SEC, but are just making 30.5% of them, which ranks ninth in the conference.
Though Alabama will be the most stressful offense Tennessee will have faced, the Vols’ defense will be the best defense the Crimson Tide will likely play all season. UT’s defense leads the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 52.7 points per game. According to KenPom, the Vols rank second nationally (trailing only Texas Tech) in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 85.8 points per 100 possessions so far this season.
It may be ‘sexy’ to shoot a bunch of three’s, but it looses its appeal when you’re not efficient doing so. Alabama is still trying to find a rhythm with new players in new roles. The Crimson Tide will improve as the season progresses, but at the beginning of January, their a team Tennessee’s elite defense should take full advantage of.
Pick: Tennessee, 68-60
MVP: Tennessee senior forward John Fulkerson
All eyes will be on the perimeter in this ball game. The area in which Tennessee should be able to take complete advantage of Alabama is in the paint. Led by John Fulkerson, the Vols should win the rebounding battle and be able to do what it wants inside. When it does that, it’ll also open up things for Tennessee on the perimeter.
This will be a new test for a Tennessee team that passed its previous test with flying colors. The Vols handled an experienced Missouri squad from start to finish. Now, they get to play against one of the fastest-paced teams in the country. Alabama likes to shoot the ball from the perimeter and plays a small-ball lineup that is capable of burning opponents in transition. Tennessee has the pieces to get into a track meet if it wants to, but I expect the Vols to stick to their standard style in this game.
Alabama played Clemson, a team that plays a very similar style to Tennessee, in non-conference play and really struggled. The Crimson Tide have given up a ton of offensive rebounding opportunities and Tennessee has been excellent on the offensive glass this year. Yves Pons and John Fulkerson are going to be mismatches in the paint. If Alabama continues to struggle from the 3-point line (30.5%), this should be a double-digit win for Tennessee.
Pick: Tennessee, 77-65
MVP: Tennessee senior forward John Fulkerson
Alabama does not match up well with Tennessee in the paint. The Vols will make it an emphasis to get the ball to Fulkerson on the block early and often.