Tide D will test Vols

Sometimes coincidences can be downright eerie. Take today's Tennessee-Alabama basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena, for instance.

The 2011 Vols have won five of their last six games and carry a 15-7 record into the Tide invasion. Alabama comes in 14-7. Each team is trying to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Now flash back eight years. The 2003 Vols had won six of their previous seven games and carried a 15-7 record into the Tide invasion. Alabama came in 14-8. Each team was trying to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Big Orange fans had better hope the similarities end there. Bama beat the Vols 76-71 at TBA in '03 and went on to earn a bid to The Dance. Tennessee lost its next two games, as well, and wound up in the National Invitation Tournament.

The 2011 Vols play their next two games at Kentucky (Tuesday) and at Florida (next Saturday). Given the severity of those two road tests, a home-floor loss today could very well be the start of a late-season skid like the one that cost the '03 Vols so dearly.

Will history repeat? Perhaps. Alabama can match Tennessee athletically and is even better than the Vols defensively.

"Alabama is as athletic a team as we'll see all year long, particularly on the front line at 3, 4 and 5," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said. "They're one of the best defensive teams in the country and probably the best defensive team in our league."

Pearl isn't exaggerating. Bama leads the SEC in scoring defense (57.0 points per game), field-goal defense (36.3 percent), steals (9.5 per game) and turnovers forced (15.7 per game). The Tide ranks second in 3-point defense (29.8 percent), third in rebound margin (plus-5.9 per game) and fourth in blocked shots (5.5 per game).

Clearly, the Vols' offense will be sorely tested, especially since their leading scorer and perimeter threat, Scotty Hopson, will miss the game due to a sprained ankle.

GAME NOTES: Bama brings a 6-1 SEC record into today's game, Tennessee a 5-2 mark.... Josh Bone again will start at shooting guard in place of Hopson.... Associate head coach Tony Jones will be filling in for the last time as UT's bench coach, since today marks the eighth game of Pearl's eight-game SEC suspension.... Bama's top player is 6-8, 228-pound power forward JaMychal Green, who leads the team in scoring (15.7 points per game) and rebounds (7.7 per game).... The Tide also is expected to start 6-8, 227-pound Chris Hines (5.1 points per game, 6.5 rebounds), 6-6, 210-pound Tony Mitchell (14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds), 6-3, 186-pound Charvez Davis (9.5 points) and 6-1, 180-pound Trevor Releford (9.8 points, 3.7 assists per game).... Tennessee won last year's game 63-56 in Tuscaloosa behind 17 points from Hopson.... Today's game has a 5:07 tipoff and will be televised regionally by Fox Sports South.... Tennessee's Feb. 12 game at Florida has been designated for national telecast by ESPN with a 6 p.m. tipoff.

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