The Tennessee Volunteers rolled into Tuscaloosa with a six-game winning streak and all the confidence in the world. They left licking their wounds after a 78-50 loss to the talented, young Alabama Crimson Tide (16-9, 7-5 SEC). Here’s what we learned from Saturday’s blowout loss.
Tennessee’s defense has a glaring weakness
The Vols’ winning streak — and most of their success altogether — has been fueled by a suffocating defense. In Saturday’s game, Alabama managed to find and exploit the Achilles’ heel of that defense. Collin Sexton and the Crimson Tide’s guards were dominant against the Volunteers’ perimeter defenders. Nobody wearing orange was able to stay in front of the quick, crafty Sexton or his teammates, leading to repeated easy looks for the home team. Either the guards would finish plays themselves, or they’d dump it off to a big man for an easy layup or dunk.
That two-man game was most clearly shown in the play of Sexton and junior forward Donta Hall. The star freshman finished with 16 points and four assists, while Hall scored a game-high 17 and pulled down 11 boards. The pair exposed Tennessee’s defense, and maybe even raised some questions about the team’s status as a deep NCAA tournament contender.
Grant Williams and the Volunteer offense can be stifled
For all of Williams and his teammates’ talents, there are reasons that this team wasn’t expected to be this good. One of those reasons is a lack of the high-end length, athleticism and size typically associated with the nation’s elite teams. Williams has trouble going against those kinds of guys, and so do his teammates. And even though the Tide have worked through struggles this season, they have plenty of the talent and length to give opponents fits. That was clear Saturday as the Vols shot under 28 percent from the field and scored a season-low 50 points.
There were very few positives for Tennessee offensively. Typically, at least one of the Vols’ Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner can be relied upon to score. Against Alabama, the trio combined to shoot 3-of-19 and score 12 total points. Even Williams, the only Vol in double figures, hit only five of his 12 shots. It was an ugly night for a team that would have had a serious argument to be ranked in the top-10 had it won.
It’s not the end of the world
Despite how bad Tennessee looked on Saturday, it’s not indicative of the team’s actual quality. The Vols struggled, but even the best teams have bad nights. Sure, Alabama’s defense did a great job of keeping Williams and his teammates in check. But going 4-of-17 from behind the arc is something that’s not going to happen every time Tennessee takes the floor. Neither is Bone missing an open dunk on a fast break.
On the other side of the ball, it’s fair to say that Alabama wouldn’t shoot that well again if these teams met a second time. It’s not unfair to say that the Vols had a cold night that happened to coincide with Alabama players on a hot streak.
Having a bad night like that on the road against a team with several matchup advantages is a perfect storm for an embarrassing defeat. Tennessee got hit with that storm on Saturday, and it came away with a near 30-point loss. The Vols looked bad on Saturday night. But it seems unlikely they’ll look that bad again.