Alabama (12-6, 4-1 SEC) at Tennessee (9-8, 1-4 SEC)
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Alabama leads, 75-65
Probable Alabama Starters
C-Moussa Gueye, 7-0, 255, JR, (1.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg)
G-Levi Randolph, 6-5, 205, SO, (8.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.9 apg)
G-Rodney Cooper, 6-6, 215, SO, (11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
G-Trevor Lacey, 6-3, 215, SO, (12.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G-Trevor Releford, 6-0, 195, JR, (16.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, .423 3PT%)
Key Reserves: Andrew Steele (6-4, 225, SR); Nick Jacobs (6-8, 265, SO); Devonta Pollard (6-8, 200, FR).
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Kenny Hall, 6-9, 230, SR, (6.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (10.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .523 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (8.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
G-Skylar McBee, 6-3, 195, SR, (5.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg, .310 3PT%)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-1, 205, JR, (14.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .321 3PT%)
Key Reserves: Trae Golden (6-2, 205, JR); Armani Moore (6-5, 203, FR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); Derek Reese (6-7, 218, FR).
The opening tip
The Vols have one of their shortest turnarounds of the season after falling to Ole Miss 62-56 in Oxford on Thursday night. They’ll have approximately 36 hours to put that behind them before Alabama, a team that beat the Vols 68-65 in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 12, comes to Knoxville for the rematch.
After a slow start in non-conference play, Anthony Grant’s Alabama squad has been heating up in the SEC with a 4-1 start. That included the win over Tennessee in addition to wins over Kentucky, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Its lone conference loss came at Missouri.
The Tide got 15 points each from guards Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford in its win over the Vols earlier this season. It forced Tennessee into 16 turnovers in Tuscaloosa and pulled away in the closing minutes in that contest thanks in large part to a 10-0 run.
That’s been a recurring theme for the Vols. They have been in contention in their last three SEC losses, but untimely turnovers and stretches of sloppy play in the second half have helped lead them to their 1-4 start.
It doesn’t help that Tennessee can’t get settled at point guard. Jordan McRae played 39 minutes against Ole Miss on Thursday as a combo point/shooting guard, but Martin still wants junior Trae Golden to take the position back after his recent struggles. He’s shown flashes of his solid 2011-12 play, but hasn’t done enough to own that spot.
They’ll also need a strong performance from forward Jarnell Stokes. The sophomore got in foul trouble at Alabama and only scored six points in 21 minutes.
Perimeter defense will be key in the matchup. Alabama will utilize a four-guard look for much of the game, so expect less Kenny Hall and Yemi Makanjuola on the floor and more Golden, Armani Moore and Derek Reese off the bench.
Tennessee senior forward Kenny Hall on playing Alabama again: “It’s another game we need. They’re coming in our home and we need to protect our floor and get this win.”
The Vols currently have a three-game losing streak to the Tide. . Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff will wear suits and sneakers Saturday as part of the NABC’s Coaches vs. Cancer weekend. . Tennessee AD Dave Hart played basketball at Alabama from 1969-70. . McRae is currently second in the SEC in scoring with 21.6 ppg. . The Vols are 8-2 at home in SEC play during Martin’s tenure at Tennessee.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga