After a tough week full of hard-fought losses to long-time rivals, the Crimson Tide will look to reverse that trend against the Tennessee Volunteers (10-9, 3-4 SEC) on Tuesday night. The Tennessee basketball program is in a similar situation as Alabama, as they are also a team in transition trying to adjust to their new, heralded head coach, Rick Barnes. It's been a roller coaster ride for the Tennessee basketball program ever since Bruce Pearl was forced out. The Vols were constant under-achievers under Cuonzo Martin until they finally put it together in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when they made a surprising run to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin then left abruptly himself, and Tennessee took a risk in hiring the up-and-comer Donnie Tyndall. Tyndall was then fired after only one season in Knoxville, as NCAA violations from his time in Hattiesburg with Southern Miss came to light. With so much instability around the program, the Vols really hit a home-run with Barnes. He will be able to stabilize this program for years to come, and his first team is really starting to find their stride.
- PG 6'4 Kevin Punter (23.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.5 SPG)
- OG 6'5 Devin Baulkman (9.8 PG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- SF 6'6 Robert Hubbs (12.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.6 SPG)
- WF 6'5 Armani Moore (12.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.9 BPG)
- PF 6'5 Admiral Schofield (6.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- G 6'3 Detrick Mostella (8.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.2 APG)
- G 6'2 Shembari Phillips (3.0 PPG 0.8 RPG, 0.5 APG)
- F 6'9 Kyle Alexander (1.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.9 BPG)
- F 6'8 Derek Reese (3.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
What to Watch For
- The Schedule. Alabama has played one of the toughest schedules in the country this season, and that hasn't eased up in SEC play. The Tide have played the 2nd toughest conference schedule among the league's teams, and that has set this young team up for some frustrating losses. With that being said, this next stretch could make or break the Tide's postseason chances. The NCAA Tournament's obviously a long-shot, but the Tide are very much in play for the NIT. However, Alabama will need to go at least 8-10 to get there. The next four games (Tennessee, at South Carolina, at Mississippi State, Missouri) provide the Tide a great opportunity to get back to around .500 in conference play. Alabama needs to take advantage.
Three Keys to Victory
- FREE THROWS. Alabama's been a scrappy team that has punched above it's weight class in a lot of games this season. It has really been an impressive run, considering the lack of raw talent on the roster. Which also makes it amazing to realize that this team is really bad from the free throw line. Usually underdog teams make up a lot of their ground from the line. That has not been so for the 318th ranked Crimson Tide, who are shooting a horrid 64.4%. Tennessee, meanwhile, is shooting 73.9%, good for 35th in the country. If Alabama gets totally outclassed from the charity stripe again then they aren't going to win this game either, plain and simple.
- Feed the Post. The Vols have had a really strong offense this season, especially since 2016 began. Their 78.9 PPG in SEC play is tops in the league. However, they have also given up 79.6 PPG in conference play; dead last in the league. The reason why is because of their lack of a post presence. They are really bad defending around the rim. That's what happens when your starting post players are 6'5 forwards Moore and Schofield. Alabama hasn't relied on generating many points from the post, mostly because Jimmie Taylor, Michael Kessens, and Donta Hall haven't been very productive offensively. But these three guys need to use their size advantage to take the ball to the glass.
- Crash the Boards. Speaking of the big guys and the glass, Alabama has no reason not to win the rebounding margin by a significant amount in this game. Tennessee has good height in their back-court, so the Alabama guards will need to do a good job of finding a man and boxing out when the ball goes up, but the aforementioned post players for the Tide should be gobbling up boards. If Reese, Schofield, and Moore can stalemate the Tide's bigs, it won't be a good sign for Alabama.