Tennessee (13-7, 4-3 SEC) at Alabama (9-11, 3-4)
Saturday, Feb. 1, 9:05 p.m. ET
Coleman Coliseum (15,316) . Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Alabama leads 76-66
Probable Alabama Starters
G-Trevor Releford, 6-5, 181, SR (18.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .396 3FG%)
G-Rodney Cooper, 6-6, 215, JR (7.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.8 apg)
G-Retin Obasohan, 6-1, 205, SO, (12.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 apg)
F-Shannon Hale, 6-8, 220, FR, (7.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
C-Carl Engstrom, 7-1 285, JR (2.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, .548 FG%)
Key Reserves: Algie Key (6-4, 195, JR); Nick Jacobs (6-8, 245, JR); Levi Randolph (6-5, 205, JR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Darius Thompson, 6-5, 180, FR, (3.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.7 apg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (18.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.8 apg)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (8.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, .415 3FG%)
F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (11.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.7 orpg)
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 4.2 orpg)
Key Reserves: Antonio Barton (6-2, 180, SR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 205, SR); Pops Ndiaye (6-10, 275, JR)
The opening tip
Throughout Tennessee’s up-and-down ride in three years under Cuonzo Martin, one thing has remained virtually the same: The Vols have dominated the month of February.
They enter their third February under Martin with a 13-3 mark in the month – a month that has been very good to UT the last two years as they made late-season runs to get into NCAA tournament contention.
This February sets up well for Tennessee again. In total, the Vols have just one currently-ranked team on the schedule this month (Florida, Feb. 11) and the first three teams on the slate – Alabama, Vanderbilt and South Carolina have a combined league record of 7-15, and are 10th, 11th and 14th in the league standings respectively.
Winning all three of those won’t guarantee anything, but a 16-7 record would put UT in good shape as it enters the stretch run. That journey starts at Alabama on Saturday night, a team coming off an embarrassing 74-55 loss at Auburn on Thursday night in a game that was pushed back a day due to weather concerns.
That means the Crimson Tide will have just 48 hours to bounce back and get ready for the Vols.
It’s been a frustrating season for an Alabama team that came into the year with NCAA tournament aspirations. It started this summer when second-leading scorer Trevor Lacey opted to transfer to NC State, and without him, it’s been a different team.
Still, Alabama remains a perimeter-oriented team with point guard Trevor Releford (18.1 ppg) leading the way. Second-leading scorer Retin Obasohan is back from injury and gives Alabama another perimeter threat.
Releford will be a challenge for Tennessee freshman Darius Thompson, who, at least for now, has taken over the starting point guard role for the Vols. Thompson dished out seven assists in Wednesday’s win over Ole Miss and seemed to jump start UT’s offense. Jordan McRae had 26 points, Josh Richardson and Jeronne Maymon contributed 16 each and Jarnell Stokes continues to pile up the double-doubles, collecting 13 points and 14 boards in the win.
And on the subject of rebounding, this is another matchup that UT should control. The Vols won that battle 45-27 against the Rebels and Alabama comes into this game tied for 10th in the conference in rebounding margin (-.8).
For Tennessee, it comes down to which team shows up. The squad that controls the glass, attacks the rim and keeps opponents out of the lane is very difficult to beat. But there have been extended lapses in those areas this season and the Vols have proven to be vulnerable to just about any opponent when that happens.
“When you’re talking 18 games in a (conference) season, you have to get over it as fast as you can. Whether you win by one point at the buzzer or lose it, you have to soak it in, embrace it, learn from it and keep moving.”
– Martin on keeping a consistent approach
Tennessee lost two of three to Alabama last year including a 68-65 decision in Tuscaloosa and a 58-48 loss to the Tide in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Nashville, a game that ultimately was a big factor in UT not making the Big Dance last year. . Alabama forward Shannon Hale is a native of Johnson City, Tenn., and was heavily recruited by the Vols before choosing Alabama. . UT leads the league in free-throw percentage (.766) and rebounding margin (+11.1). . Tennessee hasn’t won at Alabama since 2010.
Tennessee 71, Alabama 65
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga