🏀 The Dalton Knecht Show

Will Tennessee keep it going?

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • The amazing experience of watching Dalton Knecht play basketball

  • Tennessee’s odds for an SEC title and College Football Playoff spot

  • The future of the NCAA… does it have one?

  • Tennessee’s huge basketball game at Alabama

THE GROWING LEGEND OF DALTON KNECHT

Dalton Knecht has taken over

Dalton Knecht is on a special run. 

Tennessee’s star basketball player produced his latest work of art on Wednesday night:

39 points against Auburn, with 25 of them coming in the final 12:01 of the game. 

Knecht outscored Auburn’s entire team by four points during the final 12-plus minutes. 

Just when you think you’ve seen it all from Knecht, he goes out and one-ups himself. 

Knecht now has four games with 35-plus points this season, the most of anyone in college basketball. 

Watching Knecht in person on Wednesday night was like being at the theatre.

Once he got going in the second half, you could feel everyone in the arena anticipating what he would do next.

And then he would do something amazing.

Some of Knecht’s best performances this season have come in Tennessee’s biggest games.

Knecht’s showing against Auburn has to be his best one yet. 

He stepped up when Tennessee’s offense needed it — and Auburn couldn’t do anything about it. 

“At the end, they ran three (defenders) at him,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said after the game. “I might’ve done the same thing. Because you can tell when a guy gets heated up like that.”

Knecht has a way of heating up when Tennessee needs it the most.

And he’s been exactly what the Vols’ offense has needed the last few seasons.

Knecht is the biggest reason for optimism of a deep NCAA Tournament run this season.

VFL Ron Slay told Tennessee fans in January to “enjoy” Knecht while he’s here

No problem there. 

It looks like more people around the country have taken notice. 

CJ Moore of The Athletic proclaimed himself the “president of the Dalton Knecht fan club” early in the season. 

And ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes joined Knecht’s campaign team after calling Tennessee’s win against Auburn alongside Tom Hart. 

It’s hard to believe Knecht has a real shot at winning national player of the year. 

That’s not to say Knecht shouldn’t win it. 

It’s just that Purdue’s Zach Edey, who’s second in the nation in scoring and third in rebounding, looks like a lock at this point. 

But Knecht should be a first-team All-American and is the favorite to win SEC Player of the Year.

He’s also established himself as an all-time great Tennessee player. 

The rest of the season will affect where fans decide to rank Knecht on that list.

A player is always remembered in part by his team’s success. 

If Tennessee can make its first ever Final Four run — or at least come close — Knecht will rank at or near the top for a lot of UT fans. 

Bernard King is Tennessee’s best all-time player; he’s one of the best scorers in the history of basketball. 

But what Knecht is doing right now puts him in the conversation with Tennessee’s best. 

So let’s see what he can do next. 

I can’t wait to find out. 

TENNESSEE FOOTBALL’S TITLE ODDS

Josh Heupel’s Vols will enter 2024 in the CFP race

Optimism is already high for Tennessee football in 2024.

It might grow as the offseason progresses.

Sportsbook BetOnline released its odds for the SEC championship and 12-team College Football Playoff this week.

Tennessee received the 14th-best odds to make the playoff, essentially placing UT just outside the projected field.

But the Vols’ odds to win the SEC title might provide a boost to Tennessee’s playoff hopes for 2024.

Here are the SEC title odds from BetOnline:

*Georgia 2/1
Texas 5/2
Ole Miss 13/2
Tennessee 9/1
*Alabama 9/1
LSU 10/1
Missouri 11/1
Texas A&M 22/1
Auburn 50/1
*Oklahoma 50/1
*Kentucky 80/1
South Carolina 90/1
*Florida 100/1
*Arkansas 125/1
*Mississippi State 200/1
*Vanderbilt 250/1

You might notice an asterisk next to eight of the SEC teams.

Those are Tennessee’s conference opponents for the 2024 season.

Alabama and Georgia are the only two teams among the top eight on Tennessee’s schedule.

Tennessee will play the bottom four teams in terms of odds to win the SEC title: Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

And Kentucky gives Tennessee five of the bottom six teams on the list.

This doesn’t mean Tennessee will have an easy SEC schedule.

But the Vols have a more manageable set of games than some of the teams they’ll compete with for a championship.

Alabama and Georgia will both play four of the top eight teams in BetOnline’s title projection.

Tennessee will likely need a 10-2 record to reach the playoff.

A 9-3 record could get the Vols in — but don’t bet on that right now.

Going 10-2 is a big ask.

But the schedule, which also includes NC State in Charlotte in Week 2, could be a lot worse.

That has to help Tennessee’s odds.

FIVE SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 VFLs Kamal Hadden, Joe Milton and Jaylen Wright are in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. And Wright appears to be climbing up draft boards.

🏈 Tennessee planned for its fight against the NCAA over NIL before Nico Iamaleava and his 2023 class arrived in Knoxville.

🏈 The NFL might be ready to use technology, instead of the chain gang, to measure first down rulings.

🏀 Check out Bracket Matrix to see where many different projections have Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament field.

🏀 Iowa star Caitlin Clark confirmed she will enter the WNBA Draft following this season.

⚽ One Knox SC games will again be on ESPN+ this year (the season starts March 23).

THE NCAA’S FUTURE(?)

What role will SEC commissioner Greg Sankey play in the NCAA’s future?

Last week’s newsletter covered the new 12-team playoff format.

We also mentioned the possibility of a 14-team playoff taking over in 2026.

A week later, there is “momentum” for the 14-team idea, according to ESPN.

But there’s another note — a potentially LARGE one — included in the above link.

From ESPN:

One high-ranking official involved in the discussions told ESPN on Wednesday that the presidents and chancellors in both the SEC and Big Ten are having conversations about whether to continue their NCAA membership. It's a move that would impact and could possibly derail the TV agreement.

The source told ESPN this:

“Those conversations are happening,” adding that some feel “pretty strongly about pulling away. I’d say very strongly.”

The NCAA’s future has been a big question recently, especially after the organization’s latest loss in court against the states of Tennessee and Virginia.

What power does the NCAA have right now in the world of college football?

Not much.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten and SEC look stronger by the day.

We’ll see what happens next, but pay close attention.

Unlike previous moves in the college sports world, this story seems to be developing rather quickly.

BACK TO BASKETBALL

Zakai Zeigler is ready for March

We can’t overlook Tennessee’s game at Alabama on Saturday night.

While fans celebrate the Dalton Knecht Experience, Tennessee’s team turned its focus to a huge road game on Saturday night.

📍 Tuscaloosa, Ala.
📅 Saturday, March 2
8:00 p.m. ET
📺 ESPN
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

Tennessee will be on the big stage for this one.

ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Tuscaloosa to help promote the game.

➡️ At stake: An SEC regular season championship and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee and Alabama are tied atop the SEC standings, with the Vols holding a head-to-head win from Jan. 20 in Knoxville.

A second win over Alabama would give Tennessee a huge edge in trying to win an outright title.

Remember: the SEC does not use a tiebreaker for regular season championships.

If Tennessee and Alabama finish with the same SEC record, they’ll split the title — with a tiebreaker being used for seeding in the SEC tournament.

Tennessee has ONE outright SEC title since 1967, when Chris Lofton and the 2007-08 Vols won it.

(Tennessee last shared the SEC title with Auburn in 2018.)

Tennessee also has a real shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Right now, the Vols or North Carolina look like the top No. 2 seed with Arizona holding onto the final No. 1 seed (the other No. 1s being Houston, Purdue and UConn).

If Tennessee wins out against Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky, the Vols would have a GREAT case to receive their first ever No. 1 seed.

Even a 2-1 finish with a win at Alabama would give Tennessee a legit opportunity.

So Tennessee needs this one.

And so does Alabama.

The Crimson Tide can score — they rank No. 1 in the nation in offensive efficiency.

But Alabama’s defense ranks No. 100 in the country.

Bit of a difference there.

Something that Knecht, Zakai Zeigler, and Tennessee will try to take advantage of.

Enjoy it on Saturday night.

March is here!

Catch up with the latest Slay Ride below. You can also listen here or anywhere you get your podcasts.

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