Alabama vs Tennessee Odds & Picks: Defenses to Step Up?

Alabama vs Tennessee Odds & Picks: Defenses to Step Up? article feature image

Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images. Pictured: Zakai Zeigler (Tennessee)

Editor's Note: Tennessee's Josiah-Jordan James (ankle) will not play in Wednesday's matchup against Alabama, according to Jimmy Hyams of Sports Radio WNML in Knoxville.

Alabama vs Tennessee Odds

Wednesday, Feb. 15
7 p.m. ET
Alabama Odds
-110o / -110u
Tennessee Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via BetRivers. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

How often does the heavyweight matchup in the SEC not feature Kentucky? That is indeed the case this year, as Alabama and Tennessee have separated themselves into a tier of their own.

Tennessee’s recent results have somewhat dampened the excited around this showdown. The Vols have lost two straight games on buzzer-beating 3-pointers, robbing the college basketball world of a top-five matchup.

Still, these are the two best teams in the league, and we have the No. 1 team in the country going on the road. That has been an especially dangerous proposition for elite teams this year:

Your eyes haven't deceived you this year: it's been unusually hard for top 15 teams to win on the road, even sometimes against unranked competition. 2022-23 offers the second-worst road win rate for top 15 teams over the last 12 years

— Will Warren (@statsbywill) February 14, 2023

Those losses include Alabama getting demolished by Oklahoma just 18 days ago — an Oklahoma team that has almost zero chance of making the NCAA tournament. As terrific as the Tide are, they are not invulnerable.

Tennessee is reeling, but there’s no better way to right the ship than by toppling the Tide.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama is something of an anomaly as a team. Using pre-tournament data from KenPom’s database (dating back to 2001-02), only 10 teams have ranked in the top 10 of both Adjusted Tempo and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjDE).

Narrowing it further, only four have done it since 2010: 2022 Gonzaga, 2021 Gonzaga, 2019 UNC, and … 2021 Alabama. The 2023 Tide are on track to join that illustrious group, currently sitting second in Adjusted Tempo and sixth in AdjDE.

That combination is rare because it’s exceedingly difficult. Playing fast means transition possessions, and transition possessions are inherently more efficient than half-court ones.

To underscore that, of the other nine top-10 defenses this year, the fastest team is Oklahoma State, which ranks 154th in pace.

Nate Oats has cracked the code. He has brought in a deep roster with many capable defenders, and the Tide are particularly dominant at the rim.

Charles Bediako and Noah Clowney are a terrifying duo at center. Both possess shot-blocking instincts, and they have also mastered the principles of verticality, allowing them to contest everything.

Oats’ shot selection philosophy is obvious: make opponents hit tough 2-point jumpers while largely avoiding them on offense. The Tide rank third nationally in Shot Quality’s “Rim & 3 Rate” on offense and 10th defensively.

They have a mathematical advantage every time they take the court.

Giving that edge to a roster this talented is how you end up with a juggernaut. Brandon Miller is the obvious headliner as a surefire NBA lottery pick, but mid-major import Mark Sears has quietly been a star as well.

Even someone like Rylan Griffen — a four-star freshman — has emerged into a critical two-way piece.

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Tennessee Volunteers

Some are hitting the panic button on Tennessee after the Vols have dropped three of four games, including two on the road to non-tournament teams.

I will preach patience, however.

A huge part of the downturn has been unfavorable shooting regression. No one was making 3s against the Vols for most of the season. Then Vandy and Mizzou went a combined 24-of-51 (47.1%) from deep, and suddenly the sky is falling.

Rest assured: this is still a phenomenal defensive team.

The Volunteers have an on-ball bulldog in Zakai Zeigler plus copious size and athleticism at every other position.

Instead, the larger concern for Tennessee is health. Its two most versatile players — big wings Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips — are dealing with injuries.

JJJ missed the Missouri game, while Phillips did not return after playing just 10 minutes. Without those Swiss Army knives, Tennessee is far more vulnerable.

Reports have both players as game-time decisions for Wednesday’s colossal clash. Keep a close eye on their status as opening tip approaches.

The offensive side of the ball has been the Vols’ Achilles' heel for several seasons now. Rick Barnes runs a motion-based offense replete with off-ball screening, often minimizing the responsibilities of individual creators.

Critically, that attack has stagnated against compact foes and zone defenses. Tennessee can overwhelm foes inside with size, and the roster has capable shooters — notably Santiago Vescovi.

But the Vols can experience droughts if they cannot get paint touches.

Alabama vs Tennessee Betting Pick

Early openers have this at Tennessee -2.5 with a total of 143.5. Those are sure to see some movement overnight and as tip time approaches.

Seeing the nation’s top team as an underdog will surely raise eyebrows for some. That is even more likely given Tennessee’s recent results.

However, I would avoid betting a side on this game until you know the status of JJJ and Phillips for Tennessee.

Notably, Alabama’s Bediako is also dealing with a minor knee issue and is a game-time decision.

Those availability questions on both sides muddy the waters, but I still think the under has value here.

Since Oats arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2019, he and Barnes have faced off four times. All four games have gone under by an average of 7.0 points per game. Alabama struggles to speed the Vols up, and neither team has much success scoring inside the arc.

That should continue in this one.

Bediako and JJJ would help, as both are tremendous defenders. Until I know their status, I will go with 0.5 units (up to 1u if both play).

Pick: Under 143.5 (Play to 141)

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Nick Sterling
Jun 20, 2024 UTC