Alabama hoping to bring 'A-game' against red-hot TennesseeBy Matthew Speakman | 02/10/2018 11:31am
Alabama is 4-1 against AP Top-25 teams this season.
In an up-and-down season, the high points have come against the right teams for Alabama. When top-25 teams roll into Tuscaloosa, Alabama shows up. Alabama has victories over four top-25 teams with three of those coming in Coleman Coliseum.
The problem with that is not every team is a big game. Alabama has struggled against the middle-of-the-road opponents. Alabama has lost its last three games against unranked opponents.
It has been the biggest mystery of the season so far, and even players on the team don’t have a solution right now.
"I just think we bring our A-game for the top-25 teams,” forward Daniel Giddens said. “That's something we need to do every team, bring our A-game, but to be honest with you, I can’t tell you why."
Luckily for Alabama (15-9, 6-5 SEC), it gets another top 25 team in Tennessee (18-5, 8-3) today. The Volunteers are ranked No. 15. Tennessee is on a six-game winning streak, and has won nine of its last 10 games.
Alabama head coach Avery Johnson called the Volunteers “arguably, in my opinion, one of the hottest teams in the country.” That means good news for Alabama.
Figuring out why Alabama is better against better teams has been puzzling, but Johnson remains adamant that his team prepares the same for every game.
"For some weird reason, I think there's an assumption that we practice different or something before we play a top-25 team, or don’t practice the same way,” Johnson said. “Our practices have been pretty balanced.”
Alabama forward Herb Jones echoed those sentiments.
“We try to treat every game the same,” Jones said. “No game is bigger than the next,”
The players are clearly frustrated with the lack of energy against top 25 teams. Giddens said there really isn’t a way to tell if his team comes out with less energy. They plan to win every game, and attack every game the same way.
Still, it shows against the middle-tier teams. It’s the biggest question mark about Alabama so far.
“It just comes with work, man, it just comes with work,” Giddens said. “Bringing that passion and effort every game. Games like Missouri, games like Mississippi State, games like Ole Miss where it hasn’t been there. We need it to be there, because our record should be better.”
Alabama should have no trouble finding energy in front of a sold-out crowd at home. Tennessee is also a major rival for Alabama. The Volunteers are coming off of a win over Kentucky, which completed the season sweep against the Wildcats. It’s the first time Tennessee beat Kentucky both times in a season since 1998-1999.
Tennessee is no push-over, obviously, but the toughest opponents bring out the best in Alabama.
“I want to protect the home state,” Jones said. “Any game is a rivalry to me.”