One of the most crucial games of Tennessee’s college basketball season will take place tonight as the Volunteers host the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Crimson Tide (19-7, 6-6) come into tonight’s game on a different note than Tennessee (18-9, 6-6). While Tennessee has won three of its last four games despite Saturday’s loss, Alabama comes in having blown second-half leads in two of the last three games before holding on to win Saturday. Alabama led from the opening basket and held off a late surge to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats 72-61. That win pulled the Tide back to .500 in the conference and into a three-way tie with Ole Miss and Mississippi State for first place in the unpredictable SEC West.
Alabama, who began the season as a top 10 team, was expected to be one of the top teams in the SEC, but the team’s inconsistencies have prevented them from reaching their pre-season hype.
Even in the latter part of the season, the Tide started SEC play ranked No. 8 in the country, but the team has struggled to live up to expectations. Alabama does come into the Tennessee game with some solid conference wins, including Saturday’s win over Kentucky and a two-game sweep of 2006 Final Four participant LSU. However, the Tide has also had some lopsided road losses, such as a 25-point loss at Arkansas, a 21-point loss at Vanderbilt and a 24-point loss at Auburn.
Before the Kentucky win, Alabama had blown two second-half leads to fall to 5-6 in the conference. They led at Ole Miss before falling 75-69 to the Rebels. Then, last Wednesday, the Tide jumped out on top of Florida early, bolting to a 22-4 lead. However, the Gators came storming back on the strength of a 20-point second half from guard Taurean Green.
One aspect of Alabama’s game that will be difficult for the Vols is the strong interior play of senior Jermareo Davidson and sophomore Richard Hendrix. The 6-foot-8 Hendrix leads the team with 15 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, and the 6-foot-10 Davidson is close behind, averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The lack of size inside for UT is definitely a point of concern for the Vols.
“We don’t match up with them,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “They have tremendous size in the front line, and that includes their small forward.”
The small forward position is filled by 6-foot-6 sophomore Alonzo Gee, who is arguably the most improved player in the SEC. Gee is averaging 13 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
Tennessee forward Ryan Childress said he knows the importance of controlling the paint.
“We have to contain them inside,” he said. “They are going to pose a big challenge for us Wednesday night.”
Perhaps the most important member of Alabama’s team, is point guard Ronald Steele. One of the main reasons this Alabama team was given so much preseason hype is because of the 6-foot-3 junior. Steele was even listed as a pre-season All-American candidate. However, his play has not been as consistent as in his first two years, and the Tide seems to rise and fall according to Steele’s performance.