The Vols got more good reps without Zakai Zeigler yesterday, rolling past Ole Miss despite the Rebels’ hot shooting in the first ten minutes. Santiago Vescovi played 36 minutes, plus 39 at Auburn and 38 vs Arkansas when Zeigler went down. But while we may not want to do that four days in a row, it’s not so different from what’s been asked from Vescovi since the Texas game. The Vol senior has played 34+ minutes in 10 of the last 12 games, logging 31 in the home meeting with Auburn and 25 in the blowout of South Carolina.
The biggest changes in minutes and rotations have been more game-to-game. Jonas Aidoo played 30 minutes against Arkansas and Auburn, but just 14 yesterday. Getting 31 minutes from Josiah-Jordan James against Ole Miss was big, and the senior responded with 20 points and 7 rebounds. And Olivier Nkamhoua bounced back in a big way after getting just 21 minutes at Auburn, with nine points and four assists in 28 minutes vs Ole Miss.
The Vols are versatile, and their biggest wins other than Texas this season have come while down at least one contributor. There are hopefully several more games left in this season, but to this point this Tennessee team has had more players miss time with injury than any of our other NCAA Tournament teams in the last 17 years.
Here’s how that looks by comparison, taking the top five players in minutes played in each of our 12 NCAA Tournament teams in that span, with the percentage of games they appeared in each season:
|2023||Pct. of Games Played|
At this point, the 2023 Vols are the only one of these teams to have two of their top five players in minutes played appear in less than 90% of games. If Tennessee keeps winning, Julian Phillips can ultimately get back above that 90% threshold. But Josiah-Jordan James prior inactivity will still keep this team at the bottom of this list, if you take away Tyler Smith’s January 1 dismissal in 2010.
Tennessee gets another chance today against Missouri, who I’ll tip my hat to if they make 14 threes against us again. Keep an eye on the minutes for Vescovi and Josiah, or any new rotations. But this team, to their absolute credit, has been figuring it out without all its pieces all season. And that, as much as anything, gives me hope that there’s more good basketball still out there in front of them.