Men’s basketball opens SEC play against No. 14 Tennessee

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

After an interesting nonconference slate, Alabama men’s basketball heads into SEC play against Tennessee at home on Wednesday. 

The Crimson Tide (9-3) started the season 5-0 in dominant fashion, outscoring their first five opponents by 77 points. Alabama then lost to Iona, who neutralized the 3-point line for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama responded in a big way, rising to No. 6 in the AP poll after winning four straight, including victories over No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 12 Houston.

Since the last-second win over the Cougars, something has been not quite right for Nate Oats’ bunch.

Alabama took their No. 6 ranking to Memphis and were beaten from start to finish. They returned home where they struggled against Jacksonville State, holding on to a win by just six points. 

Then last week, in front of a friendly Birmingham crowd, Alabama allowed Davidson to knock down 12 3-pointers and lost to the Wildcats in the last seconds.

The Crimson Tide is now No. 19 — the lowest it has been all season — but with conference play arriving, there will be a lot of opportunities for the team to prove it can compete with the best.

The SEC will pose many challenges this season, and Alabama will face one of the conference’s best teams to begin the 18-game stretch.

The No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers (9-2) are coming off a huge win over No. 9 Arizona. Arizona was 11-0 before entering Knoxville.

The Volunteers’ two losses came against No. 22 Villanova and No. 25 Texas Tech.

Guard Kennedy Chandler, a five-star talent, leads the team in scoring and assists, averaging 14 points and 5.3 assists per game. He was the No. 1 PG recruit in the class of 2021, according to 247Sports. In the same rankings, Alabama guard JD Davison was the No. 3 PG.

Guard Santiago Vescovi is in his third year on Rocky Top, averaging 13.3 points per game. Forward John Fulkerson is in his sixth season with the Volunteers, averaging 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Fulkerson had 24 points and 10 rebounds in Tennessee’s 77-73 win over Arizona.

“Tennessee’s got some really good guards with Kennedy Chandler,” Oats said. “Vescovi, who we’ve played against, is really talented. They’ve got some athletes on the wings. We’ve got to get back to where our guards are setting their feet.”

The Volunteers are second in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Tennessee is good at protecting the basketball, ranking fifth in the country in turnover margin and sixth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“They’re really good defensively,” Oats said. “They play really hard. We’ve got a tough opener.”

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes is in his seventh year at the helm. Barnes has a career record of 736-389 and is currently 132-75 in Knoxville. Barnes coached at Texas for 17 years before joining the Volunteers in 2015. 

Wednesday’s game at Coleman Coliseum will be a homecoming for Barnes, who was an assistant coach at Alabama under former head coach Wimp Sanderson from 1985-86.

“It’s good to be back,” Oats said. “Guys were able to take a few days off, get with family, get refreshed, and get back ready to play some basketball again. Excited to start conference play.”

Tip-off from Coleman Coliseum is set for Wednesday, Dec. 29, at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2. Alabama’s matchup with Tennessee will be followed by consecutive road games at Florida and Missouri.