IHTIT: Tennessee Vols at Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball Preview (3/2/24)

It's Hoops Time in Tennessee: The Vols survived game one of a brutal four-game end-of-season stretch, beating Auburn 92-84 Tuesday. Now Tennessee (22-6, 12-3 SEC, 11-6 vs Quad 1&2) gets an Alabama (20-8, 12-3 SEC, 11-8 vs Quad 1&2) team looking to avenge their 20-point loss to UT back in January. And the game is at Coleman Coliseum, where the Tide hasn't lost since November. 

Tennessee trails the overall series 72-82, and is just 19-45 in Tuscaloosa. But, the series is an even 5-5 over the last 10 games, while Rick Barnes and Nate Oates are 3-3 against each other. 

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  • For the second game in a row, we've got a matchup of KenPom player of the year candidates ($), with Dalton Knecht currently sitting 5th, ahead of Mark Sears at 9th.
  • Speaking of Knecht, he has not scored 40 in a game yet this year. But there are just eight games this season where an SEC player has scored 36+, and Knecht is half of those (vs. UNC, UGA, UF, AU). Dalton has the 8th-most 30+ point games in UT history, and he's only played 28 games as a Vol. 
  • Despite not having his best outing against Auburn, Zakai Zeigler still had nine assists and continues to lead the SEC in assists and assists/game, is third in assists/turnover ratio, and fourth in steals. 
  • Alabama's Mark Sears is the only guard in NCAA (and just one of five players total) scoring 20+ PPG while also shooting at least 50%. 
  • Sears has also scored 20 or more 18 times this season and he's scored 30+ twice.
  • Aaron Estrada became the 4th Alabama player ever to record a triple-double last Wednesday, getting 18 pts/10 ast/10 reb in Alabama's comeback win against Ole Miss. 

Alabama has scored 100 points nine times this year, at least 80 points in nine straight, and at least 90 in the last five in a row. They have a KenPom offensive rating of 128.9. That's rarified air--only 2015 Wisconsin has finished a season with a higher offensive rating. And while the season isn't over, it's undeniable that Alabama's offense is elite. On the other hand, Tennessee's defense is elite: the Vols remain the only top-10 defense that has played against a top-10 schedule of offenses. Tennessee could certainly win this game.

But home court and vengeance are powerful motivators, and Alabama has both going for them in this game. This is also the only game in this season-ending stretch for Tennessee where both factors are against the Vols. When UT entered this string of quad-1 opponents, it seemed going 3-1 was the most likely outcome. As much as I hate to say it, I think this is the "and 1". The road in SEC play is unforgiving, and the Tide is out for blood after the Vols' blowout win earlier this season. 

I hope I'm wrong. 

Prediction: Tennessee 83, Alabama 85
Mediocre Betting Advice: KenPom has this as a one-point game. Vegas has Alabama -2.5. That .5 is vexing me; I always make my score prediction before seeing the betting line, and picked the Tide by 2, so I guess I've got to stick with Tennessee +2.5 and under 169.5. That total btw is a huge number, and I get it considering how these teams can score. The might obliterate it. But the under has hit on nine of the last 10 games between these two. The one that went over was January's 91-71 UT win, beating the total of 159.5--a O/U that was set a full 10 points lower than this game's. 
Prediction Record YTD: 11-3 SU, 8-6 ATS, 7-5-1 O/U


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