No. 11 Lady Vols look for fifth straight win over Alabama

Alabama (15-10, 5-7 SEC) travels to Knoxville to take on the eleventh-ranked Lady Vols in Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Tennessee seeks its fifth straight win, as the Crimson Tide look to avoid losing five of their last six games.

In the last meeting between the two programs, Alabama upended the Volunteers in the second round of the SEC Tournament by a score of 72-64 despite a double-double from Mercedes Russell.

The Crimson Tide snapped a four-game losing streak Sunday with an 82-79 victory over Ole Miss. Each of Alabama’s starting five players notched double-digit points. Guard Jordan Lewis led the Crimson Tide with a career-high 23 points and seven rebounds.

Alabama logged 10 steals and forced 15 turnovers from the Rebels. Still, the Crimson Tide gave up huge games to Rebels Shelby Gibson and Torri Lewis, who combined for 46 points and 12 rebounds. However, the Tide outscored the Rebels by 10 points in the second half, as junior Shaquera Wade hit a go-ahead layup to seal the victory with 36 seconds left in the game.

“I’m just really proud of my team today. They continue to battle,” Alabama head coach Kristy Curry said after the win over Ole Miss. “We’ve had some crazy things happen and things that just don’t go our way, but like I tell them, you have to make your luck.”

Just two Alabama players average double-digit points per game; Hannah Cook and Ashley Williams top the leaderboard for Alabama. Lewis falls just below averaging 10 points per game but has notched 15 or more points in three of her last four games.

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols are on yet another win streak. They have won their last four games including a 62-45 win over Georgia on Sunday. Center Mercedes Russell recorded her 1,000th rebound and is just one point away from securing her 1,500th point of her career.

“Im excited about our defense, I’m excited about our rebounding and really excited about our effort,” Warlick said.

The Lady Vols held the Bulldogs to a season-low 46 total points and outrebounded Georgia by a 50-30 margin. Despite turning the ball over 27 times for the second time this season, Tennessee held the Bulldogs to just 30 percent shooting from the field. Georgia faced ball security issues as well. The Vols forced the Bulldogs to commit 20 turnovers. The Vols stole the ball 14 times.

“One thing about our 27 turnovers, a lot of those we turned it over, but then we forced them to turn it over. So we got a little sloppy, but at least if we’re going to turn it over, let’s force them to turn it over,” Warlick said.

Tennessee got yet another double-double from Russell in the win on Sunday. Russell registered 13 points and 15 rebounds. The Lady Vols had three other players with over 10 points, including senior Jaime Nared who had a team-high 15 points and nine rebounds.

For Tennessee to continue its win streak, the Lady Vols must limit turnovers and feed Russell. The Crimson Tide have shown they struggle to stop dominant post play, so Nared and Russell will need to stay focused and score on Thursday. However, Lady Vols guard play must pick up some slack and take pressure off Nared and Russell.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 15 Tennessee looks to continue hot streak at Alabama

Tennessee (18-5, 8-3 SEC) will go on the road to battle Alabama (15-9, 6-5 SEC) Saturday evening at 6 p.m. The Vols have been red-hot lately, winning their last six games and coming off their first win at Kentucky since 1999.

Rick Barnes has Tennessee rolling right now thanks to the defense. The Vols have been stingy on the defensive side of the ball, allowing slightly over 66 points per game on the season.

The Vols haven’t allowed over 65 points to an opponent in the last eight contests.

If Tennessee wants to succeed at a sold out Coleman Coliseum Saturday, it will have to make shut down star point guard Colin Sexton.

The former five-star prized recruit for Alabama head coach Avery Johnson has lived up to his rating this season. Sexton is third in the SEC in scoring with 18.6 points per game.

Sexton went head-to-head earlier in the season with Oklahoma point guard Trae Young and bettered him in the contest. To say the least, the Tennessee guards will have their hands full in this one.

Tennessee has balanced scoring on its side. Barnes’ top seven players in minutes played average over seven points per game.

Both Lamonté Turner and James Daniel III make huge plays off the bench for Tennessee, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

The Vols bottled up Tremont Waters, a freshman standout for LSU, and sent him home after scoring only seven points on 1-9 shooting.

Only a week later, the Tennessee defense held Ole Miss’ standout guards to 20 combined points on 29 total shots. The Vols held Deandre Burnett to 2-13 shooting in the game.

Turner played a key role in the win over Kentucky Tuesday evening. He will need a big game both offensively and defensively for the Vols on Saturday. Turner must offset Colin Sexton, as Sexton will be one of the most versatile guards the Big Orange plays all season.

Alabama head coach Avery Johnson has his team playing very good basketball as of late, but the Tide has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the conference this season. Alabama is one of the few teams to knock off Bruce Pearl’s red-hot Auburn Tigers this season. The Tide also beat No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 23 Florida.

With the good comes the bad, as Johnson’s Alabama team has also been knocked off by far lesser opponents. The Tide lost by double-digits to Georgia, Texas and Ole Miss – all teams ranking in the bottom-tier of their respective conferences.

If Johnson wants his team to be respected come tournament selection time, the Tide will have to prove the good outweighs the bad and knock off lesser teams after a big time win. Both teams will have their hands full in this matchup, but look for the guard play to be the deciding factor.

Johnson and the Tide are 1-1 against Barnes since his tenure in Tuscaloosa. The Vols look to win only their 19th game at Alabama since the rivalry began. Tennessee is 18-44 all-time at Coleman Coliseum.

Edited by Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

2016-2017 SEC basketball preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

Under new head coach Avery Johnson, the Alabama men’s basketball team performed better than expected in the 2015-2016 season. Picked to finish 13th in the SEC headed into last season, the Crimson Tide were able to finish above .500 and start Johnson’s tenure in the right direction.

After advancing to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, Alabama received a bid to play in the NIT Tournament, where it would ultimately finish their season with a 72-54 loss to Creighton in the opening round, giving them an 18-15 (8-10 SEC) record.

Optimism surrounds the current squad. Picked to finish 7th in the SEC this season, it’s highly likely that they could be seen in the NIT Tournament yet again.

Strengths

One thing Bama hasn’t had in its basketball program in recent memory is stability. It seems as though head coach Avery Johnson provides that to this team by coaching up current players and picking up some sought-after recruits.

Freshman forward Braxton Key—the No. 33 overall player in the 2016 ESPN 100 rankings—should provide help in the front court for the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward from Charlotte received a four-star rating from all four major recruiting services (247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout) and had 25 offers in total—including offers from Kansas, Texas, Louisville, Ohio State, LSU and Tennessee.

Johnson also has starters returning to this year’s squad, including Jimmie Taylor, Riley Norris and redshirt freshman Dazon Ingram, who was sidelined for much of last season with a foot injury.

Ingram showed promise before catching the injury bug by leading the Crimson Tide in rebounds (5.9) and assists (3.3) through the first seven games of 2015. The 6-foot-5-inch guard is expected to start and contribute immediately for the 2016-2017 squad.

Jimmie Taylor and Riley Norris had great seasons a year ago. Norris, a junior, led the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg) and also proved to be a bit of a sharpshooter, shooting 38 percent from three in conference play. Taylor, a senior, led the team in blocks (1.8 bpg) and finished fifth in the SEC in that category.

As a team, Alabama was third in the SEC in blocked shots. The Tide will need to continue to protect the rim if they wish to be successful this season.

Weaknesses

Although the Crimson Tide finished the 2015-2016 season much better than expected, it still finished last in many statistical categories in the SEC.

All thirteen other SEC teams finished ahead of Alabama in points per game, assists and rebounds. Only Auburn fared worse than the Crimson Tide in the conference in free throw shooting percentage.

The next step for Avery Johnson and Alabama can only be taken if Bama can find some offense. Unfortunately for Johnson, his best player from last season graduated.

Retin Obasohan was named First Team All-SEC, SEC All-Defensive Team and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Leading the team with 17.7 points per game, the guard’s production will be difficult to replicate. Obasohan also led the club with 1.4 steals per game.

The lack of production, especially with Obasohan, is concerning. The Crimson Tide will need help from its veterans like Jimmie Taylor and Riley Norris to rise to the occasion if they want to come close to filling the void Obasohan left.

Players to watch

G Dazon Ingram, RS Fr. The aforementioned Ingram is set to be the primary guard on this team in the absence of Obasohan. While he only played a small part of his first season after being sidelined with injury, Ingram showed his effectiveness on the boards and as a scorer. Avery Johnson has to be glad to have him back.

F Jimmie Taylor, Sr. – Taylor was a co-captain on last year’s squad with Obasohan. His leadership and defense will be looked to this season in his co-captain’s absence. For him to be effective, he’ll need to step up his offensive production, as he only scored 5.2 points per game a season ago. If he can play on both sides of the ball, Taylor is primed to have a breakout season.

F Braxton Key, Fr. – Key was highly recruited across the country, and for good reason. His height and scoring ability make him a threat to defenses everywhere. In college basketball, it doesn’t matter if a player is a rookie or a veteran—Key looks ready to go now.

Matchups to watch

Oregon – Coming into the 2016-2017 season, the Oregon Ducks are the No. 5 team in the country according to the USA Today Coaches Poll. Although that seems like a daunting task, Alabama was able to come away with a 72-68 victory in Tuscaloosa last season. This year, however, the Crimson Tide will have to travel to Eugene, Oregon, on Dec. 11 to take on the Ducks.

LSU – The Tigers and Crimson Tide face off twice this season. With the loss of No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, LSU may have trouble beating Alabama. This game will definitely have implications for the middle of the SEC—the winning team will likely be on pace for a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The teams split the season series a year ago and will face off on Jan. 14 in Baton Rouge and Feb. 18 in Tuscaloosa

Florida – In their only matchup last season, the Crimson Tide pulled out 61-55 victory in Gainesville. Although this year’s contest is at home, Florida is picked second in the SEC’s preseason media poll. If Bama can pull off a win against the Gators, they will be serious contenders in the SEC.

Prediction

In the second year of Avery Johnson’s tenure, Alabama should be able to improve off of a surprisingly good 2015-2016 campaign. The loss of Obasohan and lack of offense a season ago is cause for concern, but the Crimson Tide will be able to take advantage of a weak SEC. They’ll finish a few games above .500 like they did last season, finish eighth in the conference and get a bid to the NIT Tournament.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Butch Dill