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Tennessee Basketball: Story of Vols win vs. Florida isn’t Dalton Knecht or Jonas Aidoo

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How many times do I have to tell you nothing Tennessee Basketball does matters until March under Rick Barnes anymore? The regular season is solely about making sure the Vols address every single way they could lose in the NCAA Tournament, as they have underachieved every year in it under Barnes.

Because of that, it’s a waste of time to celebrate anything you already knew about the Vols, including Dalton Knecht’s historic run and Jonas Aidoo balling out, in their 85-66 win over the Florida Gators. We knew what they could do. The story of the game was J.P. Estrella.

Knecht, after 37 points Saturday, had 39 points Tuesday to go with eight rebounds. He was 4-of-6 from three and hit all nine free throws. Aidoo had 19 points and nine rebounds. However, Tennessee Basketball proved it had an inside presence with Aidoo and Tobe Awaka already, and Knecht proved to be the Vols’ go-to scorer.

They also proved to have options from three with Knecht and a host of other guards, where Zakai Zeigler, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Jordan Gainey or Jahmai Mashack is bound to step up if Knecht is off. Aidoo and Awaka just have to remain a threat down low to clear space for them.

What they hadn’t proven, though was a question that arose last week after getting in foul trouble against the Mississippi State Bulldogs: front-court depth. That’s where Estrella came in. Barnes called Estrella’s number after Awaka got into foul trouble in the first half.

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Despite playing just nine minutes, Estrella had seven points and a block. The front-court didn’t miss a beat, and it allowed UT to still be effective. Barnes gave Cade Phillips and Estrella a shot, but it’s clear that Estrella is now the third option for the Vols underneath the paint.

This is a huge deal. Ticky tack foul calls in the post, which are to be expected in this sport with the worst referees in any sport, cost the Vols at MSU. However, you’re going to have games like that. Crucial is then making sure there is enough depth down low to withstand it.

Estrella’s play in just nine minutes was really an indictment against Barnes for not playing him more. What’s holding him back? At 6’11” 233 pounds, if he can exert his presence like this in every game, Rocky Top has exactly what it needs to go deep in the Big Dance.

Everything about Tennessee Basketball this year relied on the offense down low. UT needs it to make sure its three-point shooting stays afloat in case they run into a red-hot shooting team in March, which they inevitably will. Barnes’ defensive coaching is worthless in those games.

Running into a red-hot shooting team with refs who call everything down low would’ve been their downfall now, though. Well, with a third option in the post, they now have the ability to withstand that too. UT is 13-4 and 3-1 in SEC play with a No. 6 ranking. But all that matters is Estrella answered another question for March.

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