Less than twelve hours after Tennessee’s first Q1 win of the season, I can’t help but feel this is the most exciting team they’ve had in at least four years. In a 40-minute game, we saw everything to see — full duality. The first half consisted of fast-paced play where both teams were just getting buckets. 43 points in a half against a Power 6 program, on the road, is something we haven’t seen from Tennessee since 2018-2019. The second half saw more of what we saw the last few years, absolute clamps on defense — holding Wisconsin to sub 15 percent from three and less than 40 percent from the field.
The really impressive thing about this team, and this game specifically, is that Tennessee scored 80 points and got virtually nothing from Vescovi or Zeigler offensively while doing it. That’s not just wild, it’s almost impossible to think about after the last few seasons of Tennessee basketball. Below I’ve included some key observations and thoughts from the game. Here we go.
- Dalton Knecht. My colleague Nick recapped his play yesterday, so anything I say at this point would be unnecessary, but this dude is unbelievably talented offensively. There were multiple instances in the second half where he just took over and carried them in what looked like lost possessions. Every time this kid shoots I assume it’s going in. Even his misses look good. He’s such a treasure to watch. Need to enjoy him while we have him.
- Jonas Aidoo. I say this without hyperbole - yesterday was the second best game he’s played as a Tennessee Volunteer — only behind the game against Alabama last year. He was great on the boards, help side defense, and in the pick and roll game.
- Free throw shooting. Holy hell — night and day from last year. Makes such a difference late in game when you can pull away because your guys in free throws.
- Lineup versatility. They played small, they played big, they played well.
- Tobe Awaka. There were points in the second half where Wisconsin was making a push, and Tobe would either come up with a huge stop defensively, a big time offensive rebound, or show off his low post moves against a much taller defender. He struggled against Tennessee Tech so this was a great bounce back game for him.
- Josiah Jordan James. It’s amazing how much better he plays when he doesn’t have to be the guy. 14 and 8 as a contributor. Yes please. He’s a glue guy. And that’s okay.
- Jordan Gainey. I’ve said it before, but the kid is so poised it’s nuts. Runs the pick and roll well. Was their best three point shooter.
- They shot 50 percent from the field — on the road that’s outstanding.
- First true road win against a B1G team under Barnes!
- Rebounding. Some frustrating moments here, especially in the first half, but they cleaned it up in the second half. Final tally was close in the box score.
- Cade Phillips. The masked man. He’s playing better than I thought he would at this point in the season. Not a bad defender, just a little slow. His inbound dunk was cool. Excited for his development.
- ZZ. He’s still really rusty — at times they looked better without him on the court — they’ll need him to find offensively consistency moving forward.
- Jahmai Mashack. He’s such a freak athlete but he just commits too many stupid fouls. It’s a shame because they’re much better defensively with him on the court. He also needs to learn to give up the ball quicker on fast breaks. He’s simply not that good of a ball handler.
- Three point shooting. 29% and didn’t hit a single one in the second half. Zoinks.
- Santiago Vescovi. He’s rusty, and he tried like hell to find some open looks last night, they just didn’t show up. I think they’re going to make a concerted effort to get him going against Wofford on Tuesday to get his confidence up.
- Freddie Dilione. He’s really raw and is struggling a bit on defense so he saw limited minutes. He’s going to be coached hard. I think it’ll be for his ultimate benefit, but I hope he doesn’t lose confidence or get gun shy like Julian Philips did.
The next game is Tuesday night against Wofford at 6:30pm ET. Expect to see some fireworks offensively.