By: Jordan Moore
Senior Staff Writer
The All Vol Call In Show
As the clock wound down to the end of another college basketball season, one phrase continued to run through my mind: “Defense wins championships.” When I was a kid, that phrase was preached by every coach in America, but is that still true in today’s sports landscape? UConn became the eighth straight college basketball team to win a national title with a higher offensive efficiency rating than its defensive efficiency rating. 22 out of the last 28 national title-winning teams can say the same. If the goal for your program is to win a national title in college basketball, having a top offense in the nation is very important.
When looking at Rick Barnes’ teams over the last decade you quickly see his teams have had some struggles on the offensive end. Since 2013, Barnes coached teams have been ranked inside the KenPom Top 35 offensive efficiency twice (2019 and 2022). It’s not a coincidence that those were two of his most successful teams on Rocky Top. The 2019 squad spent multiple weeks as the number-one-ranked team in the country and finished with an impressive overall record of 31-6, and was seconds away from the program's second-ever Elite Eight. The 2022 team will forever be remembered as the first to bring home an SEC Tournament championship since 1979, they did exit prematurely in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, finishing with an overall record of 27-8.
I wrote an article just a few weeks ago discussing what went wrong with the 2022-2023 squad. I won’t go over all of that again, but the gist of it was the lack of offensive power or athleticism, primarily at the guard position and forward positions. The team finished 64th in offensive efficiency and had only one player on the roster that shot over 35% three (Santiago Vescovi) as a team they shot 32% that’s just not good enough, and it seems as though Rick Barnes agrees. When speaking at the Big Orange Caravan he had this to say: “There is no doubt we need to improve our shooting, not only by recruiting which I think we have done but with the guys we have.”
Looking at what the staff has done recruiting the transfer portal, they seem to have gone out and gotten that much-needed improved shooting and athleticism needed on the roster for the upcoming season.
The first transfer addition comes in the son of Tenessee's assistant coach Justin Gainey. Jordan Gainey announced on Tuesday, April 18th that he would be transferring from USC Upstate Tennessee. Gainey, a six-foot-four-inch guard, was the Big South Freshman of the Year in the 2021-2022 season, starting 32 games and putting up an impressive stat line of 13.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game, and 2.2 assists per game while shooting 47% from two, 49% from three, and 87% from the free throw line. This past season as a sophomore, Gainey’s points per game increased to 15.2, while his shooting numbers decreased, but that is likely due to his increased usage rate while being more of a focal point for opposing defenses. Gainey is a long, athletic guard with the ability to knock down shots at a high rate. Gainey has a chance to find himself competing for minutes at the two-guard position.
The second addition comes from Harvard transfer Chris Ledlum, a six-foot-six-inch stretch four, and former four-star Top 100 player out of high school. Ledlum had 15-plus power five offers but chose to make Academics a priority. The only three schools he decided to visit were Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown. Ultimately choosing to commit to Harvard, becoming the Crimson’s go-to guy over the past two seasons. Ledlum really broke out during his sophomore campaign, averaging 16.9 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game. While his scoring increased to 18.8, his rebounding numbers did decrease to 8.5 per game. He was voted as a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection this past season. Ledlum does the majority of his work around the rim. He does show some ability to step outside the arc to knock down the occasional three or put the ball on the floor and slash to the rim. You can see shades of Grant Williams’ game when you watch him play. He will add much-needed depth in the post. Ledlum will bring a lot of versatility for Coach Barnes to use.
The third and final addition may be the most dynamic of them all. Dalton Knecht is a do-it-all forward from Northern Colorado. Knecht grew almost a full foot over the last couple of years. He was a five-foot-eight point guard in high school that has grown into a now six-foot-six-inch ball-handling forward. Knecht averaged 20.2 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, and 1.8 assists per game. He was pursued by some of the top programs in college basketball once he entered the portal. The film shows a tall, lanky player that could play the one-four spots and score at all three levels on the court. Knecht is a matchup nightmare and is the type of player Tennessee has been needing under Coach Barnes for the past few seasons.
Tennessee has a chance at being one of the top offensive units in the country, and if the pieces can fit together and are utilized properly, this could be Barnes’s best chance at a magical moment in March.
Photo above | Knoxville News Sentinel