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The Scholarly Spotlight: The University Of Tennessee Volunteers

The Tennessee Volunteers have an illustrious basketball history, and their program is among the best in the Southeastern Conference. They have made the NCAA Tournament 25 times and won five conference tournament championships. They have also won 11 regular-season championships. Today, they are at the top of the SEC, and their 2023-2024 roster is full of fantastic talent.

The administration hired Head Coach Rick Barnes in 2015, and he has amassed a 199-99 coaching record during his tenure. Barnes utilizes the False Motion Offense, which uses player movement mainly to exploit the offensive team's quickness or neutralize the defense's size advantage. Back cuts allow players to run to the basket, and flare screens give spacing on the perimeter for efficient shot selection. 

Senior Guard Dalton Knecht transferred from the University Of Northern Colorado last summer and became the Volunteers' leading scorer, averaging 21.4 points per game. Barnes's system was tailor-made for Knecht’s catch-and-shoot style. He scored 30+ points in multiple games throughout the season. Because of his stellar performances, he was voted the 2024 SEC Player Of The Year. Of all the 2024 NBA draft prospects, his shot IQ is among the highest. His confidence will take him far, and his performance in the SEC tournament will indicate how he handles high-pressure moments. 

While Knecht bears most of the offensive responsibilities, Jonas Aidoo and Zakai Zeigler shine on the defensive end. Aidoo is a 6’11 forward who plays the center position and is a defensive stalwart. He is in his third year and has improved exponentially from his sophomore season. His averages increased in every category, and he is a very technical defender. Aidoo fouled out in only two games all season and led the team in blocks with 1.9 per game.  He excels at guarding the post, while Zeigler excels at guarding the perimeter.

Even though Zeigler is undersized at 5 '9, he makes his presence felt in multiple ways. He leads the team in assists with 6 per game and steals with 1.9 per game. Zeigler is also the third-leading scorer on the team, averaging 11.6 points per game. He is a highly physical defender who penetrates the paint for and-1 opportunities. Zeigler also has a consistent shooting stroke and has shot 35% from three since his first year. 

The trio have shined all year, and they’re a major reason the Volunteers are at the top of the SEC. Tobe Awaka, Jordan Gainey, and Jamhai Mashack have given valuable contributions off the bench. Awaka averages 5.1 points per game but has scored in double figures multiple times. He has an NBA build as a college sophomore, standing at 6’8 and weighing 250 pounds. Awaka will be an outstanding player by his senior year if he can avoid injury. 

Gainey transferred from South Carolina Upstate University, where he averaged double figures for two seasons, but wanted a change of scenery. Since joining the team, Gainey has adapted an unselfish playstyle. Although his 3-point shot has struggled this season, he finds other ways to contribute. Gainey is an 88% free-throw shooter and excels at getting to the line. 

Mashack is one of the best defenders on the roster. He was one of the top defenders in the class of 2021, which was a primary reason for his recruitment. His athleticism and length cause problems with matchups on a nightly basis because of his aggression on defense. He is very strong with great lateral movement. Because of his strength, the 6’4 Point Guard can also guard small forwards if needed.

The 2023-2024 Volunteers roster is the best the program has had since 2019, when they finished their season with a 31-6 record. The roster has performed well all year, and according to DraftKings sportsbooks, they’re the most diminutive betting underdog to win the SEC championship at +150. It would be their sixth conference championship, but many eyes will be on them during March Madness. The Volunteers have had generations of regular-season success, but their deepest NCAA tournament run was their 2010 Elite Eight debut, where they lost to Michigan State University

The Volunteers have never reached the Final Four, and if they were to win the NCAA championship, it would be the first time in the program's 115-year history. To claim an award they have never won, they must raise their game to a level fans have never seen. They are the fourth-lowest betting underdog at +1200 compared to the UConn Huskies, who are +450 after their great season.

Their March Madness run will be enjoyable, and the competition will test Coach Barnes’s offense. With Knecht leading the way, Zeigler and Aidoo will play significant roles in their tournament run. The bench must perform when called upon, and Volunteer fans must hope for the best. 


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