Tennessee (15-15 7-10 SEC) hosts Alabama (16-12 9-7 SEC) on Saturday with tipoff at 1 p.m. ET.
The Vols enter the game losers of three straight, including consecutive double-digit losses. Overall, they’ve lost six of their past eight.
After a five-game stretch in which the Crimson Tide went 2-3 and failed to score 60 points in four of those contests, they beat Ole Miss 70-55 on Wednesday to get back on track. This will be the one and only matchup between the two teams this season.
For the Vols, Saturday provides an opportunity to end the season on a positive note.
“The bottom line is you really have to show toughness this time of year,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “If you’re going to be a team that’s going to play in the postseason and be a team that finishes strong in your conference, you have to be tough.”
After failing to score 60 points in consecutive losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina, Tennessee allowed LSU to snap a 15-game skid in a 92-82 defeat this past Tuesday.
“Stick to the game plan,” says sophomore Shembari Phillips “Stick to what we know, stick to what we can do and stick to who we are. Don’t steer from that. That’s what we’ve been doing lately, steering away from who we are, what we actually do. We have to get back to doing what we do.”
After scoring 16 points in his third consecutive start, Phillips performance on Tuesday has been one of the lone positives from Tennessee’s past few games. In order for the Vols to end its own skid, players such as Robert Hubbs III, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield need to step up their offensive game come Saturday. In addition, Tennessee’s execution defensively must improve after Tuesday’s effort in which they gave up 92 points to LSU, 17 points above the Tigers’ season average.
Like Tennessee, Alabama relies heavily on its diaper dandies. Freshman Braxton Key (12.3 points per game) and redshirt freshman Dazon Ingram (10.4 points per game) are the only players on the team averaging double digits.
Defensively, the Crimson Tide give up under 65 points a game, the second fewest in the conference. In addition, they ranked in the Top 20 nationally in defensive efficiency.
On the other end of the floor, the numbers indicate Alabama struggles offensively. They average only 69 points a game which ranks 13th in the conference. Plus, the Crimson Tide shooting percentage (42.1) ranks 10th in the SEC.
With all this in mind, Saturday has the potential to be an ugly game between two young teams battling to end the regular season with a win before the conference tournament begins. Unfortunately, it would take a conference tournament championship win to put either team in the NCAA Tournament, so there’s no postseason implications involved in this game. Although both teams appear ready to contend next year given the players that will be back and the additions that will be added, so there’s a valid reason to tune in.
Both teams have had an overwhelming last couple of weeks, so Saturday has the potential to be a grind-it-out type game. Expect a low scoring battle that goes down to the wire. Despite the three-game skid, Tennessee pulls out a 63-59 victory as they finish the season above .500 rather than below.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Brad Blackwelder