Tennessee slapped Arkansas around Tuesday night and dropped the Hogs 82-61. Here are three things.
LO SIENTO, CERDOS
According to his bio page at UTsports dot com, Santiago Vescovi speaks three languages: Spanish, Portuguese and English. He’s a business major, and his grandfather was a star basketball player in Uruguay back in the day. But as I read, I noticed a glaring omission — the site didn’t say anything about Vescovi being an expert at hogtying. Shame on you, UT. Be better.
Vescovi knotted up the Razorback defense to the tune of 20 points on 6-10 shooting. He weaved in, out and around Arkansas defenders and sewed a wonderful tapestry of hesitation dribbles, step-back 3s and no-look passes with what looked like a gleeful ease.
He’s really not the quickest guy on the floor nor the most athletic player on the court, but none of that seems to be a hindrance. He’s quick enough to navigate opposing defenses, and he’s shooting the ball too well from too deep to not be checked as soon as he crosses half court.
Santiago Vescovi pulled up from the parking lot pic.twitter.com/wpP39BEhfS— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 12, 2020
He hit three of his four attempts from deep against the Razorbacks, and that gives him 11 made 3s over his last four games. That kind of long-ball proficiency makes things tough on the defense — they’ve gotta guard him so tight to respect the 3 that he can use his arsenal of moves off the dribble to get in the lane and feed the ball to a teammate for easy scores. Yves Pons was the beneficiary of two such occasions, and they both resulted in dunks for Pons and assists for Vescovi.
All in all, Vescovi set a new career high with eight assists against Arkansas despite foul trouble limiting him to just 30 minutes. This was his best game so far — forgive the cross-sport metaphor, but he used every club in the bag to manipulate the Arkansas defense and keep the Hogs on their heels. Watch the following video, and peep all the ways he creates space and advantageous angles.
Santiago Vescovi— Derek Murray (@dmurrayNBA) February 12, 2020
6-3 188 G Tennessee
The Montevideo, Uruguay native played well tonight, scoring 22 PTS + 8 AST. In 2019 he attended the NBA Global Academy + was ranked the #21 PG in the class.
Avgeraging 10.8/4/3.5, he's been a solid addition for the Vols this Spring. pic.twitter.com/8fVIrIsgxK
After the game, Barnes heaped praise on the freshman guard. Go read Terry’s piece here for what Barnes said as well a glowing review of Vescovi from Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman.
I don’t know how high Vescovi’s ceiling is, and I don’t know how long he can keep up this sort of dynamic play. But right now, he’s the best player on the team, and he’s been here for a month. Lol.
GAINES MAKING GAINS
Before the game, I’m sure Barnes and his staff made it a point to the players that shutting down Arkansas guard Mason Jones would be integral to getting a win. Jones is tied for the SEC-lead dropping a cool 20 points per game — a season average that includes two separate 40-point outbursts this year.
I can’t account for every Arkansas possession, but I know that freshman Davonte Gaines was guarding Jones for a pretty good portion of Gaines’s 26 minutes of game action. Gaines’s ridiculously long arms — he’s got a reported 7-foot-3 wingspan — and his no-quit mentality made life seriously difficult for Jones. Gaines had at least two deflections to go with his three steals on the night, and those long arms constantly pestering and probing helped hold Jones to just nine points on 1-10 shooting. (It should be noted that Jalen Johnson started and drew the initial match up with Jones, and Jordan Bowden also guarded Jones for spurts. Tennessee was switching the ball screens, so the defensive match ups were constantly changing.)
Barnes touched on Gaines’s effort after the game.
“Davonte has done it four games in a row, where he has done exactly what he did here tonight just flying around and seeing if he could make some things happens.”
This was the second time in four games that Gaines has played at least 10 minutes, so it seems he’s doing something right. He collected a career-high seven rebounds and six points to go with the three steals, so he’s impacting the game even though he’s not scoring a ton, and I don’t think you can reasonably ask for a whole lot more from a freshman.
Tennessee big man Uros Plavsic played just four minutes against Arkansas, and about half of those came at the end when the outcome was all but decided. After the game, Barnes said the decision to start Johnson instead of Plavsic had more to do with Yves Pons than it did Johnson or Plavsic.
“We knew going into tonight’s game that we wanted to start Yves back inside to start the game,” Barnes said. “We just felt like we needed to get him going, back where he’s played most of his minutes this year.”
But Barnes also said that Plavic’s minutes will be determined by his production and the opponent’s lineup.
“Production and matchups [will determine who plays],” Barnes said. “It’s real simple with Uros and Olivier. We told them it’s going to be strictly based — we’ve played enough basketball now, they’ve practiced enough — on production. You go in, you do your job.”
There’s nothing novel here — whoever plays better will play more, but the other team’s lineup can always throw a wrench in that dynamic. Oliver Nkamhoua definitely played better against the Hogs. He had 10 points, six rebounds and hit six of his eight free throws. But Nkamhoua’s been, at best, inconsistent for most this season, so it’s not like the door is being slammed such on Plavsic. It might be closing, though.
Plavsic hasn’t lived up to fan expectations (though few ever do). He’s real tall, but doesn’t rebound or block shots well. In nine games and 94 minutes, he’s recorded exactly zero blocks and 12 rebounds. That’s just not good enough. He’s just a freshman, and there’s plenty of time to turn things around. But the early returns ain’t great.