#14 Tennessee at #19 Alabama: SEC Basketball Breakdown and Prediction
The SEC is finally ready to kick off tonight, and it does so in grand fashion. We have a few enticing SEC matchups tonight, including what is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, with the Tennessee Volunteers on the road to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama is coming off a few questionable performances where they managed a narrow win against Jacksonville St. and a loss against Davidson. Will we get the Alabama that beat Gonzaga and Houston in back-to-back contests, or the Alabama coming off back-to-back questionable performances? Let's take a closer look at this matchup.
Tennessee looks like they are on track for another great season under head coach Rick Barnes, and I largely credit their lockdown defense. Tennessee is ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency on Kenpom and ranks 14th in turnovers forced per possession. However, they do have some playmakers on the offensive end. I'm talking about the freshman powerhouse Kennedy Chandler, who leads the team in points per game (14), Assists per game (5.3), and Steals per game (2). This Volunteers offense ranks 16th in assist to field goal ratio, which means they move the ball very well and are not selfish. They also do not turn the ball over very much, only on 15.5% of possessions, which will be key tonight. Tennessee will have its hands full with the elusive and efficient offense the Crimson Tide brings, and it won't make it any easier that this is Tennessee's biggest game of the year so far. Coleman Coliseum holds the 25th largest crowd in college basketball, and it will be rocking tonight for this one. Freshman Chandler will face the most pressure he has all year, and I'm interested to see if he performs at the same level he has in the first eleven games.
Alabama was riding high to start the season, sporting an 8-1 record, including back-to-back wins over Gonzaga and Houston. Now, they sit at 9-3 and need a win tonight to dodge back-to-back losses and to avoid potentially dropping out of the AP top 25. Nate Oats has done a great job with this program, and it's due to the fast-paced style of play he brought over from Buffalo. The Crimson Tide have played at a much faster pace the past few years than they ever had before, and it is working wonders. This offense has multiple shooting threats that get it up quickly, and if you stall for even a few minutes, they will make you pay. Just ask Gonzaga. The bright spot for this team is easily Junior Jaden Shackelford, who is the team's points leader with an insane 16.8 PPG and leads the team in rebounds per game with 6.6. Alabama is a tough team to defend. They have five guys shooting over 64% inside the arc but have multiple perimeter threats they can kick it out to. They love to control the pace and make you play at their tempo. The one issue for Alabama is that they seem to play to the level of their opponents. Two of their losses were against mediocre programs, and they played no defense against Memphis in that 14 point loss. Yet, in the most demanding games of the year against Gonzaga and Houston, they played their best and pulled out wins in both. This is why I expect to see the most formidable Alabama team tonight, especially coming off a loss.
The key tonight is tempo. Alabama has shown this year and lasts that you are destined to lose if you play at their pace. This will be a worry for Tennessee because one too many times this year have I watched them brick shots for minutes at a time. It seems they have at least a few droughts in every game, and while that might pass in a defensive-minded game, it certainly won't in this one. Tennessee played great against Arizona, but that was a non-conference home game. This is a whole new test in the first conference game of the year in front of a huge road crowd, and I don't believe that Tennessee can keep up with Alabama's offense enough for a full forty minutes.
Pick: Alabama -4 (-110)