After taking home the SEC Tournament title a season ago, No. 11 Tennessee (1-0) embarked on its 2022-2023 campaign with a 75-43 win over Tennessee Tech (0-1) on Monday.
Here are the three biggest things that stood out from the blowout win:
Tennessee boasts another elite defense
The old homage goes, “Defense wins championships.”
Well, if that’s true, then the Vols are in a good spot.
This should be no surprise to Tennessee fans who have been gifted with phenomenal defenses in the Rick Barnes era. According to KenPom.com, the Vols ranked third in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2022 and fifth in 2021.
Monday’s opener gave a glimpse into just how effective this year’s defense could also be. Tennessee only allowed 43 points and held the Golden Eagles to just 13-for-40 shooting from the field. The Vols also forced 22 turnovers.
Standing out defensively for Tennessee was a myriad of players. Olivier Nkamhoua led the team in blocks at two. Julian Phillips and Jonas Aidoo also added a lone block. Santiago Vescovi, Tyreke Key and Jahmai Mashack led the way in steals with three a piece. Zakai Zeigler and Josiah-Jordan James added two and Nkamhoua, Aidoo, Uros Plavsic and Tobe Awaka came away with one, as well.
“We did a good job in terms of what we wanted in the points per possession total,” said Barnes. “… Overall, they scored 43 points. We were playing hard. That’s the first step in wanting to be a good defensive team. There were a lot of things we have to clean up. We have to give max effort.”
Julian Phillips is legit
Out of Branson, Mo., Phillips turned heads in his high school career leading to a McDonald’s All-American honor and a 5-star ranking. 247Sports Composite lists him as the 13th-best player in his class and the No. 4 small forward.
Due to these talents, the majority of the SEC footprint offered Phillips. Initially, he committed to LSU but reopened his recruitment following Tiger coach Will Wade’s firing. In the following months, Phillips announced his plan to play basketball for Tennessee.
In his college basketball debut, Phillips immediately showcased why he was such a highly sought-after recruit. He scored eight points in 24 minutes of play while boasting a +/- of +19. Most impressively, he also added six rebounds, three assists and a block. On top of this, he even put his body on the line while drawing two offensive fouls in the first half.
Perhaps, what stood out the most about Phillips was his confidence. Despite it being his first collegiate regular season game, he looked comfortable on the court and showed no signs of nervousness.
“There is a really high ceiling for Julian (Phillips) that he is going to get to,” said Barnes. “I thought he really tried to work hard in the second half at getting to the glass… That’s what’s exciting. There is so much more he can add to his game… His ceiling is way up there and he really is just getting started.”
Tyreke Key and Santiago Vescovi are a DANGEROUS combo from deep
It’s no secret that Vescovi can catch fire from deep at any given moment throughout the duration of a game. The senior guard finished last year with a 3-point percentage of 40.3 while scoring 13.3 points per game.
However, this year, he has a backcourt partner in Key that can also hit on 3-pointers at a remarkable clip. Key’s offensive outburst was enough for the game-high 17 points through 5-for-10 shooting from the field and 4-for-8 shooting on 3-pointers.
Vescovi was not as efficient as his counterpart but still totaled nine points on 3-for-8 shooting. All of his attempts came from behind the 3-point line.
Along with this pair of sharpshooters, five other Vols got in on the ranged action. James, Zeigler, Aidoo, Mashack and BJ Edwards all connected on at least one deep ball. The team as a whole shot 14-for-44 on 3-pointers, though.
“We just got a lot of great shooters,” said Key. “We all didn’t really shoot the best tonight. The nights that they’re going to go in we’re going to score a lot of points. Everybody can shoot it. I think that’s why we’re such an explosive offensive team. The nights that they’re going to fall, it’s going to be a good night.”
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at email@example.com