For Tennessee, it’s ‘Bama week, and the Vols are projected to head to Tuscaloosa and win another big road game.
Coming off a 61-59 thriller in Lexington, Ky. Rick Barnes and his team are headed to Alabama to get their seventh win in a row. Standing in their way is an Alabama team that is currently bouncing on the bubble of the Big Dance. A win over the No. 15 Vols would add to the resume which boasts wins over Auburn and Oklahoma.
As for the Big Orange, Tennessee is looking to slide into a No. 1 or 2 seed in the national bracket. A win over Alabama would add another quality win for the Vols.
Looking at this game, there are three keys to returning home to Knoxville with a win and potential top-10 national ranking:
Figure out the Collin Sexton riddle
Despite ‘Bama’s ability to spread the scoring around this season, one man has put himself above his teammates in terms of scoring on his team.
Sexton is a man on a mission each night. He may not be the flashiest or most polished shooter, but he draws fouls and is the Tide’s best free throw shooter on the season. Averaging just under 19 points/game, Sexton is the key to the success that the Tide has experienced this season.
Sexton has played in eight games this season where he has earned double-digit free throw attempts. Giving any player the chance to score at least 10 free points is not a key to success, so the scrappy Vols will have to figure out a way to keep Sexton off the line.
Force the Tide into turnovers
Tennessee has done a great job this season of forcing teams into turnovers. Saturday night needs to be another case that highlights this.
Averaging seven steals per game, the Vols have been able to create easy opportunities in transition to quickly score and put pressure on their opponents. Doing this on Saturday will have the added effect of quieting the raucous Coleman Coliseum crowd.
Forcing the turnovers will not be enough, though. Tennessee will also need to convert those opportunities on the offensive end.
Some of those conversions will need to come the easy way in the form of fast-break layups and dunks, but they will need to convert the slower turnovers as well. Maximizing their opportunities will allow the Vols to come home with their seventh-straight W.
Lamonte Turner’s 3-ball needs to stay hot
Over the last five games, Turner has shot an impressive 17-of-30 from beyond the arc. That includes games of four and five made 3-pointers over his last two games.
Turner’s hot streak will need to continue for the Vols to have a chance at putting away the Crimson Tide.
Aiding his ability to do this will be the big men down low. Playing the inside-out game with Grant Williams will help Turner get open looks at the three. It will also help Williams score when Turner’s man has to respect the kick-out and cannot double-team the post.
Luckily for Tennessee, its victory in Lexington happened far enough apart from this clash in Tuscaloosa that Barnes will have had time to refocus his team on their next game.
This game is big for both teams, as it will push Tennessee closer to a No. 1 seed in the bracket, as well as bringing it one step closer to a regular season SEC Championship. For ‘Bama, it would help its case to move from the bubble to the inside-looking-out of the tournament picture.
I see this game playing out like many of Tennessee’s games have this season.
It will be a tough, grinding game for the Vols, but clutch shooting down the stretch and poor free throw shooting from the Crimson Tide will widen Tennessee’s lead, ultimately leading the Vols to their seventh-straight victory.
Tennessee 75, Alabama 69