Monday, January 25, 2016

Game Preview - Tennessee

1-5. It's not an attractive record, but that is the reality for Alabama following another tough loss on Saturday to the LSU Tigers. This opening stretch in conference play has been brutal. The team has competed well, but it's the little things (unforced turnovers, free throw issues, a lack of consistency in the post, random breakdowns on defense) that have been instrumental in this 1-5 start. The important thing now is that the team and coaches don't get down on themselves. There are 12 games remaining in the regular season. There is time to improve some things and turn this season around.

A good starting point for that turnaround is Tuesday when the Tennessee Volunteers and first year head coach Rick Barnes come to Coleman Coliseum for an 8 PM game. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. In my opinion, this is the most important game of the season for Alabama up to this point. This team needs a win, and dropping a home game to a Tennessee team currently middle-of-the-pack in conference play could seriously dampen hopes that the 1-5 start was merely a byproduct of tough scheduling. The fans have turned out and provided good energy for the last two home games. The hope is that trend continues on Tuesday night because this team needs that kind of support right now.

Stats

Alabama
Tennessee



67.1 PPG 79.3
67.0 OPP 76.6
.432 FG% .433
.404 OPP .422
.343 3PT% .345
.346 OPP .345
.644 FT% .739
.678 OPP .691
34.3 RPG 38.7
37.3 OPP 40.5
13.8 TOPG 11.4
13.0 OPP 13.1

I've had the opportunity to watch Tennessee on several occasions this season. Despite their 10-9 (3-4) record, this team has played very hard for Rick Barnes and the new staff. They're not very big (no regular rotation player exceeds 6'7) and they lack depth, but they have played a tough schedule, and have been competitive throughout. They will present a physical challenge for an Alabama team that has been, in my opinion, soft inside at times this season.

Kevin Punter (6'2, 190) is the leader of this team. One of the most improved players in the country, Punter has gone from averaging 10.3 ppg as a junior to 23.3 ppg as a senior. He's currently second in the league in scoring and can do it a variety of ways, from the 3, off the bounce, in transition. Alabama must limit his production in this game or they will be hard-pressed to win this game. In lieu of a true point guard, Punter has accepted the responsibility. He's solid on the boards (3.8) and is a willing passer (3.7 apg). It all goes through him. It should be a great match-up between he and Retin.

While this UT team is not very deep, they have been balanced on offense. As a team, they're averaging just under 80 points per game. Robert Hubbs III (6'4, 207) is a former 5 star recruit who struggled his first two seasons in Knoxville, but has been a steady contributor (12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) this season. Senior Armani Moore (6'4, 217) does a little bit of everything for this team (12.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.7 bpg, 1.2 spg) and can play all five spots on the floor if Barnes needs him to. Moore brings energy to the floor, and he will challenge Bama around the basket despite only being 6'4. Other guys to watch: Devon Baulkman (9.8 ppg, 83% FT), Detrick Mostella (8.5 ppg), and Admiral Schofield (6.8 ppg).

The biggest key to this game for Alabama is to play with a sense of urgency. There is no excuse for a 1-5 team to come out flat; they must be ready to play. From there, they must limit Punter's production, win the rebounding battle (UT enters with a -1.8 margin, Alabama enters with -3.0 margin) against a smaller team,  and limit transition opportunities for a Tennessee team that wants to get up and down the floor. It will be interesting to see if Alabama employs a full court press against this UT team. The press was effective at times against LSU on Saturday, and this UT team lacks the depth that the Tigers enjoy.

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