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Tennessee basketball: Santiago Vescovi’s return is good for Vols, but don’t celebrate it too much just yet

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If you value experience, outside shooting and good guard play, you would obviously celebrate Santiago Vescovi returning for his senior season to Tennessee basketball. He brings a lot to the table.

Vescovi revealed on Instagram that he would take advantage of the COVID eligibility ruling from 2020 and use his super senior season to return to UT. He made the announcement on Instagram.

As a shooting specialist for Tennessee basketball his first three years who developed into a defender last year, Vescovi has a complete game now. At 6-foot-3, 188 pounds, he can also move to point guard if necessary.

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However, while this is a welcome return, use some caution when celebrating it. There are some growing concerns about Vescovi’s game that were somewhat revealed last year.

Sure, for his career, Vescovi is averaging 11.6 points a game and shooting 38.1 percent from three and 79.5 percent from the free throw line. He’s also averaging over three assists a game and has been under two turnovers since his sophomore year.

Meanwhile, last year, he went up to just under two steals a game and emerged as a defender. Lost in that, though, was his slight regression as a scorer.

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Vescovi shot 37 percent from three, his worst percentage since his freshman year, which he only played the second half of anyway. That’s 30 points down from the previous year.

Meanwhile, Vescovi’s free throw shooting dipped to 77.5 percent, easily the worst of his college career. Simply put, what he added in defense, he lost in his outside shooting.

That’s not a good sign. Regression usually doesn’t stop. There’s also the issue of mental toughness. Vescovi missed a free throw to close out two different games this year despite being the best shooter on the team.

If he can’t handle the pressure of closing out a game from the line when he is supposed to be a sharpshooter, how will he handle the pressure of expectations that come with a super senior season? That’s a lot to deal with.

John Fulkerson learned the hard way about super senior seasons. He had a breakout campaign during SEC play in 2019-20. Then COVID hit, and when he returned the next year, many teams had figured him out, so his scoring dipped from just under 14 points a game to under 10.

Then, he returned for a sixth year of eligibility, and Rick Barnes moved him to the bench, so he averaged seven and a half points a game. He was still a factor, but he never recreated what he did in 2019-20.

By the same token, Vescovi’s scoring average dropped by almost a full point last year. His true shooting percentage dropped by 23 points, and improvement in the paint is the only reason it wasn’t worse.

Simply put, we can’t be sure just what to expect from Vescovi next year with Tennessee basketball. There are some legitimate, growing concerns that need to be addressed.

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