Tennessee vs. Alabama: Betting Odds, Picks, and Predictions (12/29/21)

Tennessee vs. Alabama Betting Odds

Opening night of SEC play is headlined by this massive battle between two ranked teams.

#14 Tennessee enters this game at 9-2 and fresh off a win against Arizona. The Vols have a case as the best defense in college basketball.

Meanwhile, #19 Alabama enters this game at 9-3, but with a more mixed résumé. The Crimson Tide has wins over Gonzaga and Houston paired with losses to Memphis and Davidson.

This is a monster game that could have SEC tournament ramifications come March. But which team has the edge?

Tennessee Volunteers Odds

I have long been a Tennessee dis-believer. I thought their defense was overvalued and the team easily folded in crunch time.

This recent stretch has me rethinking that hypothesis.

Tennessee has won and covered in four of its last five games. The Vols lost to Texas Tech was bad, but it beat Colorado on the road and handed Arizona its first loss of the season.

The win vs. the Wildcats was not a fluke. Tennessee stormed out to a 26-11 lead and never gave that lead up, winning wire-to-wire. Arizona cut the lead to win with less than five minutes left, but Tennessee closed out the game with savvy – a quality that the best teams have.

It all starts on the defensive end for Rick Barnes. The Vols are second in defensive efficiency and 12th in points per possession allowed.

Tennessee is incredibly active in the interior. The Vols rank top-25 in 2-point defense (43.7%) and top-15 in defensive turnover rate (25.1%) – the latter includes being 11th in block rate and sixth in steal rate.

Against Tennessee, you can’t cut (.908 PPP allowed, 95th percentile), you can’t hand-off (.429 PPP allowed, 96th percentile), you can’t post-up (.696 PPP allowed, 83rd percentile), and you can’t run the pick-and-roll (.643 PPP allowed, 76th percentile).

Really the only way to beat Tennessee is through shooting. They’re a little more average in spot-up situations and 3-point defense, but still above average.

Offensively, freshman Kennedy Chandler has taken this team to new heights. He’s averaging 14 points per game and dishing out over five assists per game, but has really given the Vols a consistent offensive presence Barnes lacked last season.

Alabama Crimson Tide Odds

Alabama’s losses aren’t anomalies. Rather, these types of losses are built into Nate Oats’ system.

Alabama is the highest-variance team in college basketball. Oats is an analytics-driven coach that teaches his team to avoid mid-range shots at all costs. As a result, the Crimson Tide lead the league in rim-and-3 rate (95%) while ranking top-30 in 3-point rate (46.8%).

When the Crimson Tide have an off-shooting night from deep, things can get ugly quick. When they lost to Iona, they went just 5-for-17 from deep. In the losses to Memphis and Davidson, they hit just 22 of their 70 combined 3-point attempts.

However, Alabama is consistent in some areas of the game.

– The Crimson Tide are one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the nation (58.6%, fifth).
– Alabama plays solid defensively, particularly on the perimeter.
– The backcourt quartet of Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly, JD Davison, and Keon Ellis are combining for over 50 points per game on over 45% from the field and over 30% from 3.

However, the Tide’s interior presence has been more fragile than in the past. Plus, the team can often be over-reliant on those four players mentioned.

Having Herb Jones around would probably raise the ceiling of this team even further. However, there’s no reason to doubt that Alabama will compete for the SEC title come March.

Tennessee vs. Alabama Prediction and Pick

My pick: Under 148.5 (-110 at PointsBet)

Believe it or not, the last five meetings in a row between these two have gone under.

But perhaps that’s obvious. These are two lengthy, physical, hard-nosed defensive teams that make their money on that end.

The key to this pick will be Alabama’s shooting performance. The Crimson Tide can get hot in a hurry, and they can exploit the one area of Tennessee’s defense that is weak.

But if Alabama shoots even average from beyond the arc, there’s no other area where buckets can be generated. Tennessee will shut everything else down.

On the other end, Alabama will have to contain Kennedy Chandler. The Crimson Tide backcourt is athletic and lengthy, and I feel good about the Crimson Tide containing Chandler when in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama is 8-4 to the over this season. But Tennessee has been keeping teams under during its hot streak, going under in four of the last five games. If the Vols play well, they will dictate where this number falls.

I expect Tennessee to do so, and I expect this game to finish in the low 70s.

Tanner joined Lineups to cover everything, but he has vast experience in, and unlimited passion for, Major League Baseball and NCAA Basketball. He’s a McGill University grad and former (Canadian) Division-I alpine ski racer who now spends his time drinking beer and betting home underdogs. Patrick Mahomes is a poor man’s Tom Brady.

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