Coaches Jeff Brohm, Josh Heupel Music City Bowl
Tennessee dropped its SEC opener to No. 19 Alabama, 73-68, Wednesday night at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
Here are three quick takeaways.
Tennessee Hangs Strong Without Two Top Starters
Tennessee entered the SEC opener without perhaps its two best players as point guard Kennedy Chandler and power forward John Fulkerson tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.
Without the star point guard and veteran big man the Vols were relying on an abundance of players they haven’t and a handful of players to play much bigger roles than they usually do. How did they fair?
Inside it was a mixed bag. Uros Plavsic and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield both saw much bigger roles as did Olivier Nkamhoua to a lesser degree.
Plavsic didn’t fill up the stat sheet or do much to impress but performed respectively against an Alabama team that was a bad matchup for him including knocking down six-of-eight free throws. Nkamhoua brought a great presence on the defensive end and on the glass, totaling nine rebounds. However, the junior was thrust into a bigger offensive role and struggled at times, making just six-of-17 shots.
Fulkerson provides the bulk of interior scoring for this team, but Huntley-Hatfield found a way to replicate some scoring.
The talented freshman scored eight points on four-of-seven shooting all of which came in the first half.
In the backcourt, Chandler’s absence thrust fellow freshman Zakai Zeigler into a bigger role. The undersized freshman held his own well — especially on defense against a talented Alabama backcourt. However, Zeigler couldn’t bring the juice that Chandler does on the offensive end.
That’s not a slight at the New York native who was far from a liability on offense battling all game on his way to 11 points and four assists.. Chandler’s absence just left a hole in Tennessee’s offense.
Santiago Vescovi did as much as he can to pick up the slack offensively scoring 13 points and dishing out threw assists.
Vols Edge Tide In Turnovers But Timely Rebounding Hurts UT
One of Tennessee’s biggest strength this season has been its ability to win the turnover battle. One of Alabama’s biggest weaknesses has been its defensive rebounding.
Tennessee won in both facets in the first half and controlled the turnover battle in the second. That allowed the undermanned Vols to have every chance to win despite shooting 8% worse from the field.
Even without Chandler, Tennessee did a strong job of taking care of the ball. The Vols turned it over just 11 times to Alabama’s 15 with only seven of the turnovers coming from Tennessee ball handlers.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Zeigler’s freshman season is his ability to handle the basketball. The freshman turned it over four times compared to Alabama star freshman point guard J.D. Davidson who turned it over eight times.
Alabama’s turnovers were crucial, especially in the second half when the Crimson Tide made five straight field goals in a three-minute span but couldn’t open up a lead due to an abundance of turnovers.
Tennessee also led the rebounding battle for much of the game, but Alabama was able to find enough second chance opportunities late to eek out the win.
Tennessee Throws A Zone At Alabama
Rick Barnes and Tennessee “defensive coordinator” Mike Schwartz have perennial turned the Vols into one of the top defensive teams in the country.
The Vols’ “Doberman” defense is an aggressive gap attacking man-to-man defense that currently has Tennessee second in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.
However, midway through the second half Tennessee went to a two-three zone and played it most of the remainder of the game.
Alabama didn’t look ready for the defense and it slowed down a Crimson Tide offense that was having success the first 10 minutes of the second half.
After Tennessee went to the zone, Alabama made just one field goal in the next 5:11 of the game.
However, Alabama’s cold three-point shooting finally turned the other way late. The Crimson Tide made three of their seven threes in the last five minutes including two in the last 2:01. That coupled with a Tennessee offense that struggled down the stretch led to Alabama securing the win.