Alabama Basketball opponent preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Auburn v Alabama
Auburn v Alabama / Brandon Sumrall/GettyImages

No. 14 Alabama vs no. 4 Tennessee will tip off at 7:00 CT (8:00 ET) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The game will be televised on ESPN. 

Alabama Basketball is set to host no. 4 Tennessee in a huge matchup and a revenge game in Tuscaloosa. With 12-3 conference records, both teams lead the SEC and will be playing for sole possession of first place, at least for the time being.

In the previous matchup between these two rivals, the Volunteers beat the Tide handily. In the comfort of their own arena, the Vols ran up 50 first half points and an early lead en route to a 91-71 victory. Alabama will now look to avenge that loss and prevent Tennessee from holding a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage should the two teams finish with the same record in conference play. 

The Vols are currently on a 5-game winning streak, their longest of the season in league play. However, most of these wins have come at the expense of SEC bottomfeeders such as Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Missouri. To their credit, the Vols most recently knocked off a borderline top-10 Auburn team, but this trip to Tuscaloosa will be Tennessee’s toughest road bout since it went to Kentucky nearly a month ago. 

The Volunteers are of course led by senior Dalton Knecht. The Northern Colorado transfer is a big-bodied wing who is one of the most fluid and versatile scorers in college basketball. He averages over 20 points per game, and is generally considered to be the frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year. Alabama’s own Mark Sears may have something to say about that, and this matchup could go a long way towards deciding the award.

While Sears has been one of the steadiest and most consistent performers in the sport, Knecht has more often shown the ability to go nuclear. Additionally, he tends to do it on the biggest stages and when Tennessee needs him most.

Dalton Knecht has four games this year with at least 36 points, with three of those games coming against teams that are currently ranked. He scored 37 in a loss at no. 9 North Carolina, 39 in a win over no. 24 Florida, and 39 more in a win over no. 11 Auburn.

Knecht's ability to almost single-handedly carry Tennessee to wins over some of the SEC’s better teams has earned him a lot of well-deserved attention. It goes without saying that Alabama must find a way to slow him down and prevent him from getting comfortable or finding a rhythm. 

Tennessee's supporting cast

What makes Tennessee an elite team and a potential no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament? In part, it is the fact that the Vols have a “supporting cast” made up of players who were go-to guys in previous years. 

Senior guard Santiago Vescovi and junior guard Zakai Zeigler have made up one of the SEC’s best backcourts for the last three seasons. Both are still just as effective, but haven’t been asked to do as much in the scoring department.

Two more guards, juniors Jordan Gainey and Jahmai Mashack, give the Vols quality minutes off the bench. Collectively, this is one of the most experienced and level-headed backcourts in college basketball, but the crowd at Coleman Coliseum will do its best to rattle the group. 

In the frontcourt, junior Jonas Aidoo has made a big impact for the Vols as a rim protector and play-finisher. Bama has enough frontcourt depth to throw bodies at Aidoo and potentially get him in foul trouble. While Tennessee has good depth down low, it does not have another player that provides the length and value of Aidoo.

Forwards Josiah-Jordan James and Tobe Awaka are veterans that give Tennessee an extra edge of skillful physicality. Rick Barnes-coached teams seem to always have these gritty, chiseled forwards that can make an impact defensively and on the glass. Not to be overlooked as a scorer, James has over 1,200 career points and has three 20+ point games this season (UNC, NC State, Kentucky).

This will not be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, but Nate Oats has made me a believer that Alabama Basketball can beat anybody at home. The Tide tends to make shots at a much higher clip in Coleman Coliseum, and this Bama team can be nearly impossible to beat when it gets hot.

I expect this to be a high-level college basketball game for (at least) 40 minutes, and the team that can best handle and overcome adversity will leave with the win.