Tennessee Basketball is known for being a dominant defensive force, but two transfers look poised to turn the offense into a high-octane engine.
During Rick Barnes’ tenure, Tennessee has risen to national prominence on the back of its elite defense. The Vols routinely finish in the top five nationally on that end and never shy away from gritty, grueling rock fights. For instance, just look at their SEC slate from last year, where they hit the 70-possession mark in only one conference game. Physicality, length, toughness — all of those traits have emblematized Tennessee the past few seasons.
But — at least by the statistics — its defense-first identity has put a cap on its postseason ceiling.
Tennessee’s offensive shortcomings have been well-documented, especially in March. Despite five NCAA Tournament appearances under Barnes, and all as a No. 5 seed or better, the Vols have never advanced past the Sweet 16. Moreover, in their last three tourney losses, they’ve failed to crack a point per possession.
Thus, the Tennessee staff sought a solution this offseason in two mid-major transfers: Dalton Knecht (Northern Colorado) and Jordan Gainey (USC Upstate). Those newcomers looked outstanding in the Vols’ 89-88 exhibition win over Michigan State — a development that must encourage Tennessee fans, given the spotty success rate of up-transfers.
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Here’s what they bring to the team:
Knecht-ing the dots
Knecht began his collegiate career in 2019 at Northeastern Junior College (Colo.) before blossoming into an All-Big Sky performer at Northern Colorado. He posted eye-popping counting stats in his final season in Greeley (20.2 ppg on .479/.381/.771 splits, 7.2 rpg). But the advanced metrics also painted an equally favorable picture. Per Synergy, Knecht ranked in the 80th percentile as a ball-screen handler, 75th percentile in isolation and 95th percentile in spot-up situations.
In Tennessee’s exhibition, he displayed the full gamut of these skills en route to 28 points. At 6-6, Knecht provides the Vols with an archetype that few SEC teams possess: a dynamic wing who makes plays out of pick-and-roll, dribble-handoffs, and in transition. While his fast break dunk went viral, his decision-making and craft were just as impressive. Take the following play, for example:
Knecht recognizes a mismatch when the 6-2 Tre Holloman (#5) switches onto him. He then fakes the dribble-hand-off, gets Holloman on his hip, draws the help defender and puts Michigan State in rotation. Sparty’s Tyson Walker (#2) slides over to account for Jonas Aidoo (#0), which leaves Jahmai Mashack (#15) wide open. Knecht expertly identifies his teammate and delivers a pinpoint pass, finishing the play he created with his rim pressure.
The newcomer’s off-ball activity should also elevate the Vols’ offense. As his spot-up numbers suggest, Knecht is a lethal catch-and-shoot threat — and he knows how to get open. The next clip illustrates how intelligently he moves without the ball.
Knecht could’ve taken the 3 after popping out of the initial horns set, but he passes up the shot for a better one. He gives the ball up to Mashack, sets a ghost screen and relocates for an uncontested triple. The late closeout from Jeremy Fears (#1) didn’t seem to faze him.
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