Tennessee Volunteers vs Alabama Preview, Odds, and Predictions

The Tennessee Volunteers and Alabama Crimson Tide tip-off Saturday night at 8 pm ET with the regular season SEC Championship on the line.
Alabama v Tennessee
Alabama v Tennessee / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

523. . 8 PM ET. ESPN. Saturday, March 2. Tennessee vs Alabama Basketball. 20-8, 12-3. 22-6, 12-3. 534

The Tennessee Volunteers are set to face off against the Alabama Crimson Tide as they are tied for first place in the SEC Championship race. Both teams are 12-3 in conference play, and the winner of this game could win the regular season SEC Championship.

Alabama won their midweek matchup against the Ole Miss Rebels 103-88, but it was much closer than the final score. Ole Miss led by three at the end of the first half and kept it close until about five minutes left in the game. That is when the wheels fell off for the Rebels and Alabama cruised the rest of the way. Mark Sears was nearly unstoppable for Alabama and helped them secure the road win.

Tennessee also won their midweek game in a physical, challenging game against the Auburn Tigers. The Vols won in a barn burner where we saw Dalton Knecht take over the game and outscored Auburn 25-21 in the last twelve minutes. There was nothing Auburn could do except triple-team Knecht to prevent him from scoring.

The Vols currently sit as 2.5-point underdogs on Fanduel, and the over/under is set at 169.5, which tells me that Vegas expects this to be another high-scoring contest between these two powerhouses two teams. I would not be surprised if we see another high-scoring game with how Tennessee is playing and how Knecht is playing right now.

Dalton Knecht vs Mark Sears

The last matchup between the Vols and Tide would have been scored a knockout if these two heavyweights went one-on-one in the squared circle. Tennessee dominated Alabama in Thompson-Boling Arena, winning 91-71 in their first matchup. Knecht and Sears, unsurprisingly, led their team in scoring in that contest, and I would not be surprised if that happens again on Saturday.

They have been battling in the SEC Player of the Year race, although Knecht all but locked up the award against Auburn. Knecht now averages 26.8 points against SEC opponents, while Sears averages 21.7 points per game in conference play. Knecht also edges out Sears in the rebounding category, while Sears holds the upper hand in assists.

Knecht and Sears is the matchup to watch in this game. They might not guard each other throughout the game, but whichever player gets the upper hand in this game might be why their team wins. Both players have the potential to take over the game at any moment, which can help their team get the win.

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Another key for the Vols will be winning the battle in the paint. The Vols neutralized Auburn's dominant paint presence, which helped them get the victory over the Tigers. In Tennessee's last game against Alabama, Jonas Aidoo outscored Alabama's two starting forwards 19 to 11, had three more blocks, and Aidoo had one less rebound than each Alabama forward.

If Aidoo and even Tobe Awaka can set the tone in the paint again, we could see another physical win for the Vols, as we saw against Auburn. I expect to see Tennessee's bigs take over this game or at least set the foundation for Tennessee's physicality and paint presence for this game.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes credited Aidoo and Awaka in his post-game press conference after the Auburn win on their maturity and development as young guys embracing the physicality required to play down low in the SEC.

We also know how Zakai Zeigler can control a game when he's on. We saw some of that against Auburn, but the Vols will need Zeigler to bring his A-game against Sears and the Tide on Saturday. He and Santiago Vescovi shared the spotlight against their last matchup against Alabama.

This game is effectively for the regular season SEC Championship, although there are still two games remaining on the schedule after this weekend. If Tennessee can take care of business and get the win over Alabama, they still have to take care of business against South Carolina and Kentucky to secure the regular season title and the 1-seed in the SEC Tournament.

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It has been over a month since the Vols and Tide last shared a court, and these two teams have been jockeying for the upper hand in the SEC Championship race ever since. Tennessee had a dominant February and will look to continue their momentum as the basketball season is about to heat up in March.