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Three Vols receive SEC honors

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Santi, KC, and Zakai see their great seasons pay off early in awards season

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Following a stellar run through the SEC gauntlet that saw the Vols finish second in the conference, three of Tennessee’s best were honored on Tuesday for their outstanding seasons.

Santiago Vescovi earned First Team All-SEC honors following his terrific shooting season especially in SEC play.

The sweet shooting junior from Uruguay had his best season as a Vol, leading the team in scoring in conference play while shooting just under 40 percent from three on the season and over 44 percent in SEC play. Despite playing similar minutes as he did a year ago, he became a much more integral piece to the offense, and it paid dividends.

Vescovi joins Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield as Vols to earn First Team All-SEC honors under Rick Barnes. From hitting countless big threes and free throws to getting hands in passing lanes to create turnovers, he did it all for Tennessee this season and he has been rewarded as such.

Up next is Vols freshman sensation Kennedy Chandler. Chandler led the SEC in steals per game with 2.2 and completely changed the Vols defensive mindset. His great season earned him Second Team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman Team honors.

Chandler led the Vols overall in scoring on the season with 13.7 per game, assists with 4.6 per game, and steals per game with 2.2. In fact, he led the entire conference in steals per game. His impact was felt immediately, and his play especially of late has sparked a whole new offensive potential for the freshman point guard.

Over his last six, Chandler is averaging 15.8 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, and is shooting an outstanding 48.1% from beyond the arc. Chandler, who is currently predicted to be a first round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, is poised for a major breakout in March.

Lastly is Tennessee’s own energizer bunny, the Vols fantastic freshman sixth man, Zakai Zeigler. Zeigler was named to the All-Freshman Team and All-Defensive Team, becoming the first Tennessee freshman ever to earn All-Defensive honors.

Big things absolutely do come in small packages, and when big man Olivier Nkamhoua went down for the season, it was 5-foot-9 Zeigler who stepped up and filled the void for Tennessee. His ascension in Rick Barnes’s pecking order as the year went on led to a breakout from February until the end of the regular season and made the transition post-Nkamhoua injury seamless.

ZZ is averaging 11.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 2.3 steals per game since the beginning of February in just under 26 minutes per game. In that stretch, he’s also shooting 43.6 percent from three, an enormous boost to the offense.

On top of all of that, Zeigler ranks ninth in the country in steal percentage and is the best at creating turnovers in the entire conference in SEC play. It’s been one wild ride with Zakai this year, and he’s seen it pay off in awards season.

Don’t miss out on your Vols award winners this coming Friday in SEC tournament play as Tennessee takes on the winner of Mississippi State versus South Carolina in Tampa.