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Tennessee Basketball proved why it can go deep in tourney with win at Arkansas

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Everything that costs a team in March was on display against Tennessee Basketball Wednesday night as the Vols faced the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Hogs were shooting red-hot from three early while UT had another off-night, and Rick Barnes’ team wasn’t taking great care of the ball.

However, despite that first-half onslaught, one that was on the road in Fayetteville, Ark., Rocky Top went into halftime up 46-40. They matched everything Arkansas threw at them largely by doing what they do best: relying on their go-to scorer in Dalton Knecht, going inside to Jonas Aidoo and finding the hot hand from outside.

By doing those three things, they were naturally able to pull away once the Hogs went cold in the second half, and a close game turned into a 92-63 dominating victory for Tennessee Basketball. The Vols showed exactly why they’re capable of making the Final Four if they remain fresh and healthy.

Knecht did what he’s supposed to do by finding ways to get buckets and finishing with 22 points and, actually, an impressive three blocks. Aidoo returned after a bad game Saturday at the Texas A&M Aggies and generated a double-double, scoring 17 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. This team is only as good as he is.

As for the hot hand, Jordan Gainey was the answer off the bench. Gainey shot 2-of-3 from the three-point line and finished with 17 points off the bench. Then came the transition game Arkansas likes to play. UT showed it could keep up, which is why Josiah-Jordan James had 12 points and part of why Zakai Zeigler had six assists.

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Simply put, Tennessee Basketball isn’t going to win the same way every night. The only real constant needs to be Aidoo racking up stats underneath the basketball, Knecht being able to score when things go cold and Zeigler being aggressive on defense and smart on offense.

Now, the other issue was still on display here. Barnes did play 11 guys this time, but in a near-30 point blowout, Aidoo, Knecht and Zeigler still all logged at least 30 minutes. Gainey logged 18 off the bench, Jahmai Mashack had 14, and Tobe Awaka had 10. That was in game that was a blowout with 10 minutes left.

Cameron Carr, Cade Phillips and Freddie Dilione each saw action, but none played more than six minutes. Sorry, but this is still a major concern. UT had a 20-point lead with over 13 minutes to go in the game. Barnes should’ve pulled everybody by that point just to get them a rest. He didn’t.

Everything about Tennessee Basketball screams Final Four. This is the most complete team Barnes has had. They showed why Wednesday. However, if he keeps squandering chances to rest his players, another early NCAA Tournament exit is likely. That’s an issue.

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