This is beyond heartbreaking. By far the toughest competitor and the emotional leader for Tennessee basketball, Zakai Zeigler, is now out for the season due to an ACL injury suffered in their 75-57 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Zeigler is the one true point guard for the Vols. He’s the best at generating turnovers on the perimeter defensively, and he is also the vocal guy for Rocky Top who demonstrates the toughness everybody wants in a player.
With one game left in the regular season and the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, how can Tennessee basketball offset all of this? Fortunately for them, other key guys are getting healthy just in time.
Look, Zeigler is a unique player whose presence can’t be replaced. Others can pick up the slack, though, starting with handling the point guard duties.
Santiago Vescovi was a point guard for the Vols when he initially arrived on campus and received eligibility to play in 2020. Remember, Lamonte Turner had just ended his season due to a shoulder injury, and Vescovi stepped right in.
As a result, at least when it comes to distributing the ball, Vescovi should do the same thing. He did have five assists against the Hogs Tuesday, and although turnovers were a problem when he first took on this role, he’s a lot older now.
In terms of being a pesky perimeter defender, Jahmai Mashack is developing just in time. A four-star wing in the 2021 Tennessee basketball recruiting class, Mashack clearly just needed some time to develop.
On Tuesday, Mashack came away with four steals, proving what he’s able to do in this role and just how much of a threat he is. This should be a big deal going forward.
Josiah-Jordan James should pick up the leadership role. He has been with the Vols the longest, and he’s a versatile defender who can also shoot the three and distribute.
There’s a reason James had 11 points off the bench Tuesday. He’s a smart player, and he’s just now getting healthy. If he can get his three-ball back, he could be unstoppable.
All of those guys can offset the loss of Zeigler. Julian Phillips is playing once again too, and he’s a major scoring threat. If one player has pressure, though, Tyreke Key is that guy.
Should Key be able to return to the player he was before SEC play, Tennessee basketball may be able to fully offset the loss of Zeigler. Key has to get back to the lineup, though, and drastically improve his play.
Still, the Vols have plenty of options to be able to fill the voids Zeigler will leave. Zeigler was the best at all of them, to be fair, and he will be missed, but Rick Barnes should still be able to work with what he’s got.