Alabama at No. 3 Tennessee
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. CT
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Records: Alabama (11-5, 2-2 SEC), Tennessee (15-1, 4-0 SEC)
Radio: 95.3 FM
When Avery Johnson talks about No. 3 Tennessee, he sounds like a man who has decided to build a nice house on a lot filled with grizzly bears.
“You just have to decide what you can live with,” Johnson said at Friday’s Alabama basketball media session.
What he didn’t add was that he chased the bears off his lawn with a golf club last year, posting a 78-50 win at Coleman Coliseum that probably hasn’t been forgotten in Knoxville.
“(Our players) have great memories,” UT coach Rick Barnes said on Friday. “Some things they bring up before we get ready to play other teams. Alabama is a tough team for us.
“Last year they really beat us good. They controlled the entire game. I think we gave up eight dunks to one player (Donta Hall), if I remember right. You’re not going to win many games doing that. But they’re different team (this season) and we’re a different team.”
For Tennessee, that means different but better. When Johnson talks about “deciding what to live with,” it means defending a UT team with two outstanding inside players, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, and a roster full of complementary talent.
“Tennessee is a huge problem on every level,” Johnson said. “We think they’re the best team in the country. A balanced team. The entire roster is back. Schofield and Williams up front are a handful inside and out. They’ve got some veteran guys in the back court that know how to play efficient basketball.”
The Volunteers, whose only loss has come against No. 7 Kansas on a neutral floor, lead the SEC in several offensive categories and are No. 2 in the NCAA in offensive efficiency, trailing only Gonzaga, a team that the Vols defeated earlier in the season. Alabama, by comparison, is No. 52 nationally and No. 6 in the SEC in playing efficiently on offense, hindered primarily by the absence of an inside scoring threat other than Hall.
Williams leads the Vols in scoring at 18.8 points per game, while Schofield averages 17.
Even though UT has beaten its first four SEC opponents by an average of 25 points per game, Alabama does have confidence coming off Wednesday’s SEC road win at Missouri.
“We know we’re the underdogs,” said Avery Johnson Jr., who came off the bench to score 14 points in the win over Missouri. “I feel like if we lock in on them, we can get the win. But you’ve got to have good carryover from the film session to the walk through to the practice.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.