MADISON, Wisc. — Tennessee basketball aced its first true regular season test, silencing a sellout crowd of over 17,000 at the Kohl Center with a 80-70 victory.
Tennessee’s offense showed that its preseason improvement was no fluke and the Vols got stops in winning time to earn a marquee road victory.
Here’s three quick takeaways on Tennessee’s road victory.
Offensive Efficiency Shows Up
We thought Tennessee’s offense was truly better after its offseason additions. We were confident of it after the exhibition win at Michigan State but were still a bit hesitant.
Tennessee confirmed that its offense was for real against Wisconsin and it didn’t take them long to do it. The Vols had 10 points by the first media timeout and used 58% shooting both from the field and three-point line to score 43 first half points.
The Vols still went through a scoring lull including a four-plus minute stretch without a made field goal. But Tennessee found a way to fight through it.
Tennessee’s improved offense is largely due to its transfers and the number of different scoring options it has. Dalton Knecht was simply brilliant again, scoring a game-high 24 points while Jordan Gainey added 10 points. But the Vols got a number of offensive contributions including 16 combined points from its front line.
Rick Barnes’ ninth Tennessee team shot poorly from the perimeter in the second half but still found a way to score 37 points thanks to its versatility and some solid free throw shooting down the stretch.
For Tennessee to have that type of offensive performance against a top 15 defense in the country is impressive. It shows that it’s offense truly is improve.
Wisconsin Attacks Tennessee’s Defense In The Interior
One reason why Tennessee’s offense has improved this season is because the Vols are playing four-guard lineups much more frequently. But there is a negative to that on the defensive end.
Specifically, its opponents ability to score in the paint and that was Wisconsin’s formula for a successful offensive performance.
The main way the Badgers did it was with post ups for Tyler Wahl and star Chucky Hepburn. Tennessee wasn’t terrible defending it by any means but Wisconsin went to it consistently and found enough success to keep pace with the Vols.
In fact, Wisconsin totaled 32 of its 70 points in the paint and didn’t have a second half basket outside of the pain until Max Clesmis drilled a triple with 4:29 left.
Wisconsin also had success in some dribble drive actions, attacking the basket though that was far less consistent— particularly in the second half as Jonas Aidoo got into a rhythm as a rim protector.
Tennessee’s defense is expected to take a step back as its offense takes a step forward this season. Wisconsin may have shown us a way opponents will look to exploit it.
Depth Shows Up
Tennessee’s depth wasn’t unknown coming into this game. Rick Barnes talked earlier this week about the challenge of trying to iron out a lineup with this many playable guys, especially since they weren’t at full strength at all this preseason.
Both the depth truly showed up against Wisconsin. A number of Vols, most notably Santiago Vescovi, were in foul trouble in the first half and while it certainly hurt Tennessee it wasn’t nearly at debilitating as it would have been a season ago.
Jordan Gainey came in off the bench and made big time baskets and had a number of big time assists. Even freshman Cade Phillips played seven minutes and grabbed a number of touch rebounds and had a dunk.
Tennessee played 10 different players including nine who scored and eight that played double-digit minutes.
Tennessee returns home to Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center on Tuesday where they’ll host the Wofford Terriers in its final matchup before the Maui Invitational.