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Three Things: Tennessee Tech

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NCAA Basketball: Appalachian State at Tennessee Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Our Tennessee Vols won their fourth-straight game Friday by doubling up hapless Tennessee Tech 103-49. Here are three things.

Springer the Springboard

Freshman guard Jaden Springer played a borderline transcendent game against Tech Friday evening. Now, forgive my tinge of dramatic flair — context always matters, and Springer wasn’t exactly playing the USA Olympic basketball team. But, regardless, his performance and subsequent stat-line look like they were graced by King Midas and effectively blurred the line between him playing a kid’s game, and him creating living, breathing art.

He led the team with 21 points in just shy of 22 total minutes and made the defense feel him from a variety of places on the court. As impressive at the point total is, considering the minutes he played, the variety of ways he scored is just as, if not more important than the accumulated point total. We’ll go through some examples and talk about what exactly I mean.

Though Tech has all five guys back on defense, they’re not totally set up yet. Springer sees this and drives directly to the hoop. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than the guy guarding him, so he uses that to Deebo his way to the basket for an easy layup. He absorbs the contact, hits the shot and nails the free throw for a three-point play.

Next we see a good post-entry pass from Springer to James. The ball gets fumbled around a bit, but ends up back with Bailey at the top of the key.

Bailey drives past his man, and as he does, Springer quietly moves to occupy the space Victor’s dribble-drive just opened up. Springer’s man is watching the ball instead of keeping tabs on his assignment, and it ends up with an open 3 from the top of the key that Springer nails.

In this next clip, Tennessee’s offense has stalled a bit. There’s 10 seconds on the shot clock and Vescovi has the ball at the top of the key just like he would at the beginning of any possession. Santi drives and makes an ugly pass to Springer in the corner —

Springer corrals the errant pass, drives to the paint with his off hand, jump stops and has the touch/finesse to finish an intermediate shot that isn’t quite a layup nor a full jump shot. This entire play has an extreme degree of difficulty that Springer makes look run-of-the-mill. Good players do that.

I’ve mentioned several times in recent stories how complimentary Barnes was of Springer and Johnson’s defense during the offseason, and we’ve seen examples of both guy’s prowess at that end of the floor in just the first couple games of the season. We saw Keon snatch the ball from a poor Appalachian State player and take it the length of the court for a jam; well Springer made a similar play against Tech on Friday.

Springer is keeping an eye on the ball, but he’s also aware of where his assignment is lurking on the wing. Springer turns his head at the exact right moment, breaks on the ball and speeds downcourt with an easy bucket on his mind. A Tech defender makes it a little harder by simply being in the way, but again, Springer is too big, too strong and hits the layup despite the defender’s interference.

Jaden scored in a variety of ways, and I’ve tried to give you some examples that aptly display said offensive versatility. Those 21 points came on 8-10 shooting, including 2-3 from deep and 3-4 from the FT line, but he impacted the game in other ways, too. He had six boards, one steal zero fouls, zero turnovers and six assists. Let’s look at some of his passes.

This shot didn’t go in, but Springer did his job and got the ball around one defender and between two others to set up Pons for an easy two at the rim... just need Pons to convert this one.

The college game doesn’t feature the pick and roll quite as prominently as the NBA, so it’s not a skill Springer has to be perfect at yet. But that day will come. Running the pick and roll well requires high basketball IQ, good decision making and above-average court vision.

Fulkerson sets a down screen on the far side of the court, and Springer can either shoot that 3 or drive. He passes up a decent shot — the reasonably open 3-pointer — to drive to the basket. Fulkerson rolls out of the down screen, and Tennessee takes advantage of the defenses’ indecision with Springer hitting Fulky right in the chest with a pass that leads to an easy shot at the hoop.

Hide and Vesco-seek/ Will the Real Santiago Please Stand Up

Santiago Vescovi isn’t having a great season. He went scoreless against Tech — his first scoreless game since arriving at Tennessee mid-year last season. He went 0-4 from the field including three misses from behind the arc and a second-straight game with zero free-throw attempts. Vescovi’s now scored less than 10 points in three of the season’s first four games after scoring in single digits just eight out of 19 games last year.

His playing time Friday was hindered by foul trouble as this made the second-straight game in which he had four fouls. Head Coach Rick Barnes attributed some of the struggles to the young guard playing a different role for the team this season, one where he’s the offense’s initiator instead of the offense’s sole embodiment.

“... I still want to get him back to where he is still looking to pass the ball a little bit more. He still needs to set that up more some where he can shoot it. He’s going to shoot it. We are not worried about that. We all know he can shoot the ball. He is always trying to run the team and do what he needs to do. He got in some foul trouble, which a year ago we would have been in trouble. Now, with our depth, we are able to do a little bit more.”

Vescovi was such an integral part of last year’s offense that I can’t really imagine a scenario in which he doesn’t get things rolling. Yeah, that was a double negative, and I just plain don’t not care. He had four rebounds and three assists, so it’s not like he’s sleepwalking through games. On the flipside, this marked the third game in a row where ‘Scovi turned the ball over just once (!!!). He did airball a 3, and I was going to gif it but then decided to not. You can just take my word that it 1) did happen and 2) wasn’t pretty.

Odds and Ends

  • Tennessee dropped triple digits all over Tech’s head Friday, and that’s always cool. it marked the first time the Vols crossed the century mark since the ‘18-’19 season when Grant, Admiral and Bone powered the offense to 100-point games twice.
  • The Vols’ defense held its fourth-straight opponent under 60 points. I don’t know the exact stat, but that’s gotta be some kinda record. Or something.
  • Tennessee had 28 assists on 42 made shots. That’s really good.
  • The Tennessee defense forced 15 turnovers, scored 28 points off those turnovers, blocked eight shots and held Tech to 31-percent shooting.
  • Tennessee’s bench scored 50 (!!!) points, and the Vols scored 62 (!!!) points in the paint. Those stats, too, are really good.