Who to watch: Donta Hall. The big man from Luverne was the best player in Alabama’s best game last year, a 78-50 blowout of the Vols at Coleman Coliseum. With Kyle Alexander struggling and nobody else from UT with enough size to challenge him, Hall had a half-dozen dunks to punctuate a 17 point, 11 rebound performance as the Crimson Tide outscored the eventual SEC co-champions 50-18 in the paint. If Bama hopes to pull off a stunner on Rocky Top it will need Hall to at least match if not exceed those numbers, which will mean running plays for him and not just leaving him to subsist on putbacks. And the 6-foot-11 Alexander has blossomed into a complete center this year, adding to the challenge.
What to watch for: Poise in the face of adversity. This is the best team in UT history, better than the Ernie and Bernie Show in the 70s, better than Bruce Pearl’s Elite Eight team at the beginning of this decade. The Vols have the nation’s best assist-to-turnover ratio, are second in shooting percentage and assists per game and in the top five for points per game, margin of victory, shooting percentage and blocked shots allowed among other categories. If Alabama can’t find a way to win, it will have plenty of company. What the Tide can’t have happen is to suffer a psychologically-damaging blowout that puts it into a tailspin right at the start of the most challenging five-game stretch of the season.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris