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Tennessee proves the Vols are much more than just Dalton Knecht

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Tennessee’s basketball team made a statement in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Vols are more than just swingman Dalton Knecht. Forward Jonas Aidoo provided the exclamation mark.

The Vols received plenty of production from a bevy of players to advance to the second round with a 83-49 win over Saint Peter’s on Thursday evening. Make no mistake. Knecht was present, potent and tough to stop, but he didn’t have to lead the Vols to victory against the No. 15-seeded Peacocks. He didn’t have to save Tennessee from an upset. It was team affair. Still, he scored 23, making 8 of 15 shots.

Aidoo’s size and athleticism was nearly impossible for St. Peter’s as he poured in 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Aidoo, who is 6-foot-11 and 241 pounds, was much more than the Peacocks could handle in the front court. Forwards Corey Washington (6-6, 180) and Mouhamed Sow (6-9, 195) simply didn’t have the overall size and athleticism to keep up with Aidoo as he helped the Vols to a 46-20 lead at halftime, which allowed the Vols to cruise to victory in Charlotte.

The Vols’ next matchup has an intriguing story line as the No. 2 Vols will play Texas, which is where Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was building a respectable legacy before being fired in 2015. Now, Barnes will get his shot at the other UT. 

If I’m the Longhorns, I’m certainly going to be mindful of Aidoo when the two teams match up on Saturday. With a superstar like Knecht and a solid starting lineup, Tennessee may be impossible to beat if Aidoo is on point.

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While the opponent must be taken into account, Tennessee looked more balanced than they’ve been in weeks, especially in embarrassing losses to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament and Kentucky on senior day in Knoxville.

Tennessee is a much better team when it is balanced offensively as opposed to relying on Knecht for every important point as they have done at times this season. Anyone remember that Auburn game. Well, that Knecht wasn’t need against the Peacocks, but it’s certainly nice to know that he’s still ready and willing if the time comes – and it likely will.

The Vols should treat Knecht as a luxury, at least his teammates should, including Aidoo. Just because the Vols have one of the best players in school history doesn’t mean it’s time for a half-hearted effort. Knecht might well win you a game when you need him to with everyone else off of their game. However, he might also come up short, which means the season is over in an elimination game. 

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, who evened his NCAA Tournament record at 27-27 with the win against St. Peters, should also feel quite fortunate. While Knecht can take over a game, he doesn’t force things. The senior doesn’t demand the ball more than he should just because he can. He just tends to fill his role as needed.

It’s doubtful that the Vols can actually rely on efficient team basketball for the remainder of the NCAA Tournament. They’ll likely need Knecht to don a cape at some point if Tennessee makes a deep tournament run. However, Aidoo and his teammates declared to the basketball world that it’s not Knecht or bust when it comes to their tournament success.

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