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Some thoughts on Tennessee’s exhibition win over Michigan State

What we learned.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Like my colleague Terry stated earlier today, Tennessee basketball is back. It may have only been an exhibition, it’d be tough to ask for a more inspiring start less than two weeks before the season. Without two of their starting guards, Tennessee went into the Breslin Center and punched Tom Izzo’s experienced, top five ranked squad right in the mouth. And while it didn’t come without its share of hiccups, today’s game should have Tennessee fans very excited for the 2023-2024 campaign.

Because it was just a scrimmage, I won’t bore you with a full fledged recap of the game, but there are some things that are absolutely worth noting — so I’ll list those below. Here are some key observations/exciting things from Tennessee’s victory over Michigan State:

The Good:

  • Not really a takeaway from the game, but I just want to acknowledge how great these charity scrimmages are. What’s better than two high-profile teams getting some valuable experience ahead of the season? Oh, I know, two high-profile teams getting some valuable experience ahead of the season AND the money from the game goes to charity. These should be the future of college basketball. I legitimately can’t think of a single downside.
  • Tennessee’s transfers look great, especially in the first half. Dalton Knecht scored at all three levels, passed well out of pick and rolls, rebounded well, handled the ball occasionally, and an absolutely absurd dunk in transition. It was sick. Jordan Gainey was no slouch either — he has 14 quick points in the first half and finished with 19, including the game winning free throw. I would’ve liked to see some more consistency in the second half, but I think he’ll be a great asset for this team.
  • Jonas Aidoo played pretty well. Just like you can always count on Raising Canes to have good chicken, you can always count on Michigan State to have a good front court. Going against Malik Hall and Mady Sissoko was a great pre-season test for Jonas, and I thought he answered the bell for the most part. He’s still a little soft on the glass, but he was able to stretch the defense today, had some good dunks, nice give-and-go passes, and played above average weak-side defense. For what it’s worth, I think he’s poised for a really productive year. Tobe Awaka looked fine too.
  • They forced a lot of turnovers too. Surprise surprise, Rick Barnes has a pretty solid defensive unit. Not as good as the last two years, but they should be more than alright in this category.

The Average:

  • Freddy Dilione V looked like a freshman today — and that’s okay. He had some rough sequences where he tried (and failed) to just bully his way to the basket, but he showed a lot of toughness and didn’t get discouraged. When he got to the rim, he didn’t have much trouble finishing and he hit a three, too. I think a game and atmosphere like this one was really important for him to experience.
  • Free throw shooting is still an issue, much like it was last year, but it was better late in game. Tobe Awaka appears to be much improved in this category.
  • JJJ looked okay. Little slow defensively. Expecting this sort of thing to be fixed sooner rather than later.

The Bad:

  • Turnovers weren’t very good. To paraphrase Tom Izzo, “both teams should consider opening a bakery with how many turnovers they had.” It’s preseason. They didn’t have their guards. I expect this to get cleaned up.
  • Jahmai Mashack looked awful. Majority of his production came after his fifth foul (no foul outs in scrimmages). Out of position quite a often. Offensively looked bad at times.
  • Because this was a back and forth game, we didn’t get to see a lot of guys on the floor tonight. Cameron Carr, Cade Phillips, JP Estrella, and DJ Jefferson all got very limited minutes, if they got any at all. Unfortunate.

For those curious, you can check out the highlights of the game here.