Tennessee travels south to the “Yellow Hammer” state Tuesday night where the Vols and Crimson Tide are both looking to end their losing streaks inside Coleman Coliseum.
Coleman Coliseum has been a house of horrors for the Big Orange, as Tennessee has lost two straight at Alabama and won just two games in Tuscaloosa in the last decade.
“They have good players, and they've had good coaches,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of the Vols’ struggles in Tuscaloosa. “It doesn't make sense. There isn't a tougher environment than the one we went into at Kansas. I think it's focus. I think when you're on the road and things go against you, you've got to let it go. You've got to get on to the next play. Young teams normally don't do that, and young players normally don't do that.”
Like Tennessee, Alabama enters Tuesday’s contest riding a two game losing streak in SEC play. The Crimson Tide has been playing well after a poor start to head coach Nate Oats’ first season, winning four straight before last week. However, Alabama ran into a buzzsaw at LSU before blowing a double digit home lead against Arkansas.
Tennessee and Alabama both found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble following a two-loss week, and Tuesday’s matchup is critical for each team's postseason hopes.
Alabama has one of the conference’s best backcourts with the trio of Kira Lewis, John Petty and Jaden Shackelford. Lewis and Petty are familiar names to Vols’ fans — Lewis was a preseason All-SEC selection and Petty went for 30 points in last season’s loss at Tennessee.
Shackelford is a new face in the SEC, and the freshman from California has averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in his freshman season
"I think he's got his system implemented where they are one of the fastest teams in the country,” Barnes said of Oats and his team. “Their guards are some of their leading rebounders. They get the ball and go with it. They have a number of guys that can turn it into a one-man fast break if they need to.”
Lewis leads the way offensively for the Crimson Tide averaging 16.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, while Petty has broken out in his junior season averaging 15.4 points and a team high 7.2 rebounds per game.
Alabama plays with perhaps the fastest pace in the SEC, and the numbers back it up as the Crimson Tide averages a league best 82 points per game. Alabama ranks sixth-best in the league in points per possession.
Alabama shoots the most 3-pointers in the SEC averaging 29 3-point shots, three more than any other SEC foe. The Crimson Tide shoots it better than anyone else in the SEC, shooting a league best 35% from beyond the arc.
“They are going to shoot 30-plus threes,” Barnes said. “If you look at the shot chart on them, it's either a three, or they try to get the ball to the basket for shots at the rim.”
"When you've got a lot of guys you've got to defend behind the 3-point line, open up the court, they move the ball well, they really do a nice job of moving the ball and attacking that way. I think any time you're playing against a team that they can put three or four guys out there that can go for big numbers, it's a concern."
Due to the high pace of play, Alabama’s defensive numbers rank in the bottom half of the SEC. The Crimson Tide hold opponents to 77.5 points per game, the most of any team in the SEC. However, Alabama ranks eighth in the SEC by allowing 40% shooting from its opponents.
Alabama could be without starting forward Herb Jones Tuesday night after Jones was injured in last week’s loss to LSU.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPNU.