My Two Cents: Alabama may be catching Tennessee at just the right time. A young team, the Vols were trending toward an at-large bid entering February, but fell off the bubble in recent weeks after losing 5 of their last 6 games, including Wednesday night at LSU, allowing the Tigers to end their 15-game losing streak. With both teams currently ranked in the 80s of the RPI, this game could go a long way towards knocking the loser out of postseason consideration, assuming neither team puts together a run in Nashville. That makes this game much more important than it might appear on the surface.
Players to Watch: Alabama will have a size advantage in this game. Tennessee only has one player taller than 6'7 on the roster (Kyle Alexander, who averages 14 minutes per game). If Alabama can control the glass, they should put themselves in position to win this game. That means all hands on deck hitting the glass, and limiting Tennessee - a good offensive team - from a high number of possessions.Turnovers will also be key. Tennessee is quick on the defensive end, forcing 14 turnovers per game, which just happens to be Alabama's average per game. If ever this Alabama team needed a low-turnover game, it's this one.
Despite their lack of size, Tennessee isn't a bad rebounding team. They average 37.9 (though they do give up 37.1 per game), and grab 32% of their misses on the offensive end (that's good). Let's hope the officials let the teams play because this looks like it could be a physical affair, and our big guys have to avoid foul trouble in this one. One guy to watch for Tennessee is freshman Grant Williams. He's had an All-Freshman type of season: 2nd in scoring (12.7 ppg), 1st in rebounding (5.9), 1st in blocks (1.9), and he's also knocked down 36% of his 3-pt shots. On the flip side, he does lead the team in turnovers (59 for the season so far). But he's a tough son of a gun. Despite being only 6'5, Williams spends most of his time at the 5, and has typically outworked the taller players that have faced off against him. Our big guys have to outwork him for rebounds, loose balls, and can't let him be a scoring presence inside.
Prediction: The Vols are reeling coming into this one, but it's never easy to win on the road. And it's not as if Alabama has been the most consistent team this season. Despite a solid win on Wednesday vs Ole Miss, this team still turned the ball over 18 times (vs 12 assists), and had another slow start, prior to Lawson Schaffer's 3-point shot heard round Coleman Coliseum. I think the match-up favors Alabama in spots, and I won't be surprised if they win their 18th of the season, but I also don't have the level of trust in this team necessary to pick them in what amounts to a coin-toss game. Tennessee - 75 - Alabama - 64