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Benching Santiago Vescovi is best chance for a Tennessee Basketball run in March

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In order to field his best team ever, Tennessee Basketball coach Rick Barnes may have to make one of the toughest decisions of his career.

It has become obvious over time, especially the last three months or so, that guard Santiago Vescovi needs to become a boost off the bench instead of of remaining one of the Vols’ starters. Why hasn’t Vescovi been the star that he was for Tennessee last season? There are several possible factors, but none are strong enough to keep the senior guard in the starting lineup.

Vescovi may still be suffering from the loss of his grandmother late last year, which caused him to return to Uruguay shortly after the season began to tend to family affairs. Vescovi may also just be a bad fit for the Vols’ offense this season that is more high-low based to take advantage of wing Dalton Knecht, who has obviously taken over the team from a production standpoint.

The fifth-year senior isn’t the kind of player that can create his own shot. He needs perimeter screens to get open looks. Without those, and perhaps because of his own personal struggles, Vescovi just isn’t the same scorer he was last season, especially when he’s shooting.

This season, Vescovi is shooting 37-percent from the field and 33-percent from three-point range. He scored only four points against Mississippi State in the Vols’ stunning 73-56 Friday to open the SEC Tournament. Vescovi missed all four of his three-point attempts against the Bulldogs. Despite being in the lineup to knock down shots, far too often this season, Vescovi’s shots haven’t been falling.

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Last season, Vescovi shot 40-percent from the field last season and 37-percent from the three-point arc. Surely, he knows he can hurt the Vols at times now that he’s not shooting as well as before. He also has to realize that he’s never been a fluid part of the Vols’ offense.

Benching Vescovi, who is often lauded as being one of the Vols’ hardest-working players, would be very un-Barnes like. Barnes is a tough coach, but he tends to be loyal to his players, and he has every reason to be loyal to Vescovi, who has started more games for the Vols than any player in Tennessee Basketball history. In other words, benching Vescovi wouldn’t be easy. 

Such a decision would signify a drastic roster change and, some might say, a lack of loyalty from Barnes with just days remaining in Vescovi’s college career. However, loyalty doesn’t win in March. Guard play does and, simply put, Vescovi’s play at guard isn’t what it once was.

Barnes would be making a bold move to bench Vescovi for the NCAA Tournament. One wonders what that might do for his play and how it might affect team chemistry. However, Vescovi should treat a new role as a positive if Barnes decides to make a change at, admittedly, an incredibly bad time to do so. 

Off the bench, Vescovi could be the lightning rod, ready to provide a boost when he comes into the game. Pragmatically, benching Vescovi makes a lot of sense based on his play this season. However, there’s some history that Barnes has to keep an eye on, which could actually work in the Vescovi’s favor. Vescovi has shown he’s ready to go when the ball is tipped in tournament time.

During NCAA Tournament play, Vescovi owns the third-best 3-point percentage during in Tennessee history among Vols with a minimum of 20 attempts, and he has the third most made 3-pointers. Vescovi has made 18 of 40 from long distant in the Big Dance, which begins next week. However, his legacy is not the most important factor for Barnes to consider. 

First, Barnes needs to consider his own legacy. He’ll be 70-years-old this summer. Barnes might not have a team for the remainder of his career that is as well equipped at making a Final Four as he does this season. He can re-write his own legacy and the Vols’ rather pathetic March history in one magical, March run. However, if he doesn’t get more from Vescovi, or find a new role for him all together, no one will benefit from Vescovi’s struggles, and no new legacies will be forged.

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One Response

  1. Dave,

    Who in the world would you start if it wasn’t Vescovi? Please, don’t tell me Gainey. He’s too huge a liability on defense. Mashack? Well, maybe. I love the guy. There’s really no one else. What’s your solution, Dave?


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