In what seems a long time ago, the 1970s, Alabama was rebuilding its basketball fortunes under C.M. Newton, definitely one of the good guys in college athletics. And against the good was the black hat and orange jacket, Ray Mears of Tennessee, or at least that’s the way it seemed to Crimson Tide followers.
Alabama will close out its two-game home-stand when it takes on the Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday at 8 p.m. CST. It will be the only game between the two teams during the regular season. And again it seems to be good – Avery Johnson having taken over Bama basketball – against (perception, at least) not-so-good Rick Barnes, the new coach of the Vols.
Barnes was an assistant under Wimp Sanderson in 1985-86, acknowledged by Barnes to be his first opportunity in major college basketball. And then, so the story goes, Barnes moved on and was a very negative recruiter against Alabama. Barnes was fired at Texas following last season.
Ah, well. At least Tennessee has an athletics director who served Alabama well. Dave Hart was a player and graduate assistant coach under Newton and later served as executive director of athletics under Mal Moore at The Capstone.
Alabama is 10-8 overall and 1-5 in Southeastern Conference play. Tennessee is 10-9, including a 3-4 conference record.
Alabama dropped its third straight game and lost for the fifth time in its last six contests to start SEC play when the Tide fell to LSU, 72-70, on Saturday. Senior guard Retin Obasohan led the Crimson Tide with a 20 points in the losing effort, marking his seventh game of scoring 20 or more points this season.
Tonight’s game will air on SEC Network.
The teams have had three common opponents in SEC play with similar results. Both lost at Auburn, both lost to Vanderbilt (Bama in Nashville, the Vols in Knoxville), and both defeated South Carolina in home games.
One thing noticeable about the Vols is that the tallest starter is Admiral Sheffield, a 6-5, 240-pound guard/forward who averages 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Tennessee starts three men who are 6-4 and one who is 6-2. That smallest Vol is the most dangerous. Kevin Punter, Jr., a senior from The Bronx, N.Y., averages 23.3 points and 3.8 assists per game and is the leading scorer in SEC games at 25.3 per game.
Tennessee leads the league in scoring at 78.9 points per game, but is last in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 79.6 per game.
Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said Tennessee has “different strengths” from other teams the Tide has faced, including having big men who can handle the basketball. He said the Vols are also good at getting to the free throw line, “and they make them.”
That brings up a sore spot for Alabama, which has been very weak in free throw shooting, a trait which may have cost a few wins. Johnson said the Tide continues to stress foul shooting in practice. Another area of emphasis, he said, is improving rebounding, particularly on the offensive boards. And he wants to see better defense.
The Tide coach said, “We understand we are always the underdog. We don’t have much margin for error. The goal is to be in position to win at the end of the game.”
And, he reminded, Alabama has won some close games, too.
Alabama has an all-time record of 77-67 against Tennessee, including last year’s 56-38 win over the Vols in Knoxville.