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Tennessee's blueprint to success in the NCAA Tournament

By: Dallas Bowlin

Senior Staff Writer/Editor/Host

The All Vol Call in Show

20240318

Photo | Tennessee Athletics

March Madness has descended upon us again and Tennessee finds itself on the brink of making program history; a chance to secure a spot in the coveted Final Four and vie for a National Championship.

 

However, despite recent challenges, there's a sense of optimism surrounding this year's team. Despite setbacks, the Volunteers boast the hallmarks of a championship-caliber squad, with seasoned veterans, formidable guard play, and the electrifying presence of a potential college basketball legend.

 

With all of that praise out of the way, let’s get to the negative. A recent and troubling trend is the drop in defensive efficiency. During its recent two-game skid against Kentucky and Mississippi State, Tennessee posted a defensive efficiency of 110.5 and 114.8 which is its second and third-worst performance in the last 13 match ups.

 

Against the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, Tennessee got handled in the paint. At the rim, Mississippi State made 13 of its 18 attempts (72.2%), and in the paint, eight out of 12 for 66.7% which is above average compared to the division one average.

 

Against the Wildcats, its interior defense wasn’t horrible, but the perimeter defense left a lot to be desired. Guards Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler consistently found themselves out of position or slow on rotations. From the top of the key and wings, Kentucky made 15 of its 26 attempts, good for 57.7% which is well above the division one average.

 

While the trend is unsettling, I would have faith in the coaching staff to fix those defensive issues by the big dance. On offense, some issues are fixable, but there are some that you can’t necessarily fix with coaching.

 

Tennessee will have to capitalize on open three-point looks. For the season, Tennessee is shooting 35.2% on open three-point attempts (119/219) recently, the number is most likely much lower.

 

In its half court offense, the Volunteers need to play West and East less and play North to South more. What I mean by that, is the constant dribble hand-offs toward the sidelines that don’t put any pressure on the defense. I would like to see Tennessee utilize “zoom action” much more frequently. “Zoom” is when a player receives a hand-off on the perimeter and goes straight downhill toward the rim. Using Zakai Zeigler, Dalton Knecht, and Santiago Vescovi to get downhill off the hand-off would help create more open looks.

 

According to EvanMiya, Tennessee’s best five-man lineup is Zeigler, Gainey, Knecht, James, and Aidoo. If Tennessee wants to get out of its current offensive “funk” putting these five on the court together would be its best hope possible.

 

Finally, the Volunteers will need more from their veterans. In their last five games, the super senior duo of Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi are averaging a combined 8 points on 41% from the field and 24% from behind the arc. That just won’t get it done.

 

Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament success will rely on its ability to defend and hit open shots. It has shown the ability to do both at an elite level. Can they find that again? That will decide the fate of the Vols.

 

Stats and analytics | EvanMiya, CBB Analytics, and Synergy.

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