And y’all know what that means. It’s time to don that orange and white lederhosen and suck down some pints of Tennessee Vols-related thoughts poured straight from my noggin.
Let’s get to it...
1) If you’re a Vols fan hoping to see the maximum number of former UT players in the Super Bowl.....well, that was a very disappointing second half for you in the NFC Championship Game last night. I mean, I was rooting for the Detroit Lions anyways because I’m tired of seeing San Francisco in the NFC title game and/or Super Bowl. The Lions were the ultimate underdog to root for regardless, but Dan Campbell hit when he was holding 19 and the dealer showing 4.
As a result, just one former Vol - Jauan Jennings - is going to face the Kansas City Chiefs instead of four. The Lions have four former Vols on their roster - Cam Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Hendon Hooker, and Emmanuel Moseley.
And Jennings will end up facing Vol for life Trey Smith and one-time Tennessee offensive lineman Wanya Morris, who transferred to Oklahoma after Pruitt was dismissed. Either way, a former Vol will get to raise the Lombardi Trophy in Las Vegas. That always makes me smile when I see it.
2) Dalton Knecht is a dude. With 32 points, he became the first SEC player since Chris Lofton in December 2006 to score 32 or more points at least three times over a four-game stretch, per Tennessee Athletics. For those that remember, that Lofton stretch ended with 35 points in a 111-105 overtime win in Knoxville over the Rick Barnes-led Texas Longhorns that had Kevin Durant. That was a fun game.
Seriously though, Knecht provides what Tennessee simply hasn’t had much of in tournament time: a scorer who just aggressively wills his way to the hoop and creates high-percentage scoring chances possession after possession. A player who can score when his team needs a basket. Tennessee has had good shooters. Plenty of them. Plenty of guys who can splash deep shots. Bigs who can score near the basket, like Grant Williams.
However, extended scoring droughts and passive offensive play have happened like clockwork in each big dance for Tennessee. The Vols haven’t had an every-time-down-the-court scorer like you see the teams who make deep tourney runs feature. It’s still early, but man, Knecht really has the look of a guy you can lean on to make a tourney run. Love to see it.
3) Todd Helton was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week. I was in high school when he helped lead the 1995 Vols to the SEC regular season and tournament titles and a trip to Omaha, so I don’t remember it all that well now. Several of his school records still stand almost three decades later - particularly his walks and RBIs as a batter and ERA/saves as a pitcher. He had gotten close to getting in last year with 72.2% of the vote (75% needed), but he pretty easily got over that mark this year at 79.7%. In his sixth year on the ballot, he’s finally headed to Cooperstown.
I’m a big Texas Rangers fan, so this particular class is pretty special to me, seeing Helton and perhaps the best combo of hitting and fielding at the hot corner ever in Adrian Beltre going into the Hall together.