🏀 Tennessee Marches On

Have the Vols returned to their stride?

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:

  • Tennessee advances as Rick Barnes prepares for a familiar foe

  • The BIG expectation Tim Banks has for Tennessee’s defense

  • Big Blue suffers another big upset in March

  • People want to mess with the NCAA tournament… why?


The Vols made easy work of their first round opponent

The Tennessee basketball team did exactly what it was supposed to against Saint Peter’s on Thursday night.

The Vols dominated, winning 83-49 in their first round matchup of the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee led 46-20 at halftime, and it was obvious Saint Peter’s wouldn’t have a chance to compete.

After Tennessee’s ugly loss to Mississippi State six days prior, that was exactly what UT fans wanted to see.

The Vols were the better team entering the game against Saint Peter’s — and it was obvious to everyone once they hit the floor.

◼️ Dalton Knecht led the Vols with 23 points
◼️ Zakai Zeigler posted a double-double (11 points and 10 assists) in the win
◼️ Tennessee held the Peacocks to 29.1 percent shooting from the field

Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi scored only six points, but he hit two three-pointers — a sign he might break out of his shooting slump?

Tennessee hopes so, because the competition is about to get tougher.

The Vols will play No. 7 seed Texas on Saturday.

📍 Charlotte, N.C.
📅 Saturday, March 23
8:00 p.m. ET
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

A storyline you might hear about between now and Saturday’s tip-off:

Rick Barnes used to coach at Texas.

That angle will bring some intrigue to the game, but these two programs faced off each of the last two seasons.

Tennessee will focus more on the objective: winning the game and advancing to the Sweet 16.

Tennessee was a popular Final Four pick among the national media during the week.

The Vols’ showing on Thursday night will only strengthen that talk.

There’s also the qualifier from Thursday that Saint Peter’s wasn’t very good… at all.

Texas is a legit opponent.

The Longhorns have real talent that can match up with Tennessee.

But Texas has also been a disappointing team this season.

The Longhorns have won consecutive games just two times since Jan. 1.

Texas knows a win on Saturday would make up for a lot of that disappointment during the regular season.

Tennessee opened as a 6.5-point favorite against Texas; the Vols are the better team in this matchup.

But that only means so much, especially in March.

But the Tennessee team we saw on Thursday night will be tough for Texas — or anyone else — to beat.

Check out more Tennessee basketball talk from this week’s Slay Ride. Almost all of the conversation holds up after the first day of NCAA tournament action. ⬇️


James Pearce Jr. has altered the potential of UT’s defense

It was a fairly quiet first week for Tennessee football as the Vols began spring practice.

But one comment that stood out during the week came from defensive coordinator Tim Banks.

“I think we should really have the best defensive line in the country,” Banks told the media this week.

That’s big talk.

But it makes sense why he believes it.

Tennessee will bring back several seniors on the D-line for the 2024 season, including Bryson Eason, Omarr Norman-Lott and Omari Thomas on the interior.

There’s also James Pearce Jr., who might be the best defender in the SEC (and the nation).

Those returning players — along with several others — have led defensive coordinator Tim Banks to raise the stakes for UT’s defensive line this year.

And remember this with Banks’ comments as he enters his fourth season as UT’s defensive coordinator:

1️⃣ Coaches should have high expectations for their players
2️⃣ Tennessee will have one of the deepest defensive lines in the country
3️⃣ The Vols have a legit star in Pearce

Pearce might be the only star up front, although that’s to be determined.

➡️ It’s worth noting: no one talked about Pearce becoming what he did in 2023 this time a year ago.

Tennessee has several guys who could step into bigger roles and play at a higher level this fall.

Daevin Hobbs, Joshua Josephs and Tyre West come to mind.

All three players were highly-touted, four-star prospects in high school.

So will Tennessee really have the best defensive line in the country?

That’s a big ask, and several power programs from the SEC and Big Ten will make a claim to the same expectation.

But if Tennessee wants to compete for an SEC title and make a run at the College Football Playoff, it will take more than quarterback Nico Iamaleava to make it happen.

Having one of the nation’s best defensive lines would help.

We discussed the start of spring practice as well as some of the latest recruiting news items with Austin Price of Volquest. Check it out below. ⬇️⬇️


🏈 Clemson filed a lawsuit against the ACC this week, joining Florida State in a fight over the league’s “exorbitant” exit fees.

🏈 We had a great time talking to VFL and former Tennessee receiver Anthony Miller, who also had a successful 10-year NFL career. Full interview here.

🏈 A disturbing and concerning story involving former Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton, who’s still wanted by police as of this writing. The Detroit Lions released Sutton on Thursday.

🏀 Here’s the full schedule of games for Friday’s NCAA tournament action.

🏀 This thread from Dan Monson's press conference earlier in the week was both entertaining and filled with perspective.

A big story worth following: what exactly happened with Shohei Ohtani and his former interpreter, whose story has changed about the funds he received from Ohtani?

⚽ One Knox SC will host its home opener this weekend. One Knox opened the season with a win at Charlotte Independence.


Thursday night could have gone better for Kentucky.

The No. 3 seed Wildcats fell to No. 14 seed Oakland.

The Golden Grizzlies beat Kentucky 80-76 with Jack Gohlke leading the way with 32 points.

He made 10 of his 20 three-point attempts to help knock off Kentucky.

Add Jack Gohlke’s name to the list of college players will talk about for a long time.

“This is the greatest win that I’ve ever been a part of,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said after the game.

This is also one of the most frustrating stretches Kentucky basketball fans have experienced.

Here are the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament results from the last four seasons:

🔷 2024 First Round exit (against a No. 14 seed)
🔷 2023 Second Round exit
🔷 2022 First Round exit (against a No. 15 seed)
🔷 2021 Missed the tournament

Kentucky has also won just one SEC tournament game since 2019.

That’s not exactly living up to the expectation of Big Blue Nation.

And that’s led to serious questions about John Calipari’s future.

He makes nearly $9 million per year and reportedly has a buyout of close to $33 million.

But this is Kentucky basketball, where anything can happen.

We just saw Texas A&M pay close to $77 million for Jimbo Fisher to go away.

Whether Calipari stays or goes, something has to change in Lexington.

Calipari used to lead the one-and-done era of players succeeding in college and going to the NBA.

Lately, Kentucky has mastered the one-and-done approach to the NCAA tournament.

And relying on freshmen to lead the way in the postseason already looks outdated.

“The era of taking these young freshmen and trying to play against these older players is over,” former Villanova coach Jay Wright said during the CBS postgame coverage.

Wright mentioned the ability to pay college players as a way to entice guys to stay in college and develop.

As he also noted, that will help other schools more often than Kentucky.

UK’s players have legit NBA opportunities, making it more difficult to keep those players and develop them.

Could Kentucky still land an Anthony Davis type player that can lead the Wildcats all the way?


But that’s a big ask — and Kentucky fans look like they’re tired of waiting.


Oakland coach Greg Kampe (center) and folk hero Jack Gohlke (right)

Thursday brought more great stories that only the NCAA tournament can.

Oakland’s win over Kentucky was the biggest one.

Earlier in the day, No. 11 seed Duquesne won its first NCAA tournament game since 1969.

No. 14 Samford almost knocked off Kansas (and the upset might’ve happened with a better replay system).

That’s why recent comments from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo received so much pushback.

“We are giving away highly competitive opportunities for automatic qualifiers (from smaller leagues), and I think that pressure is going to rise as we have more competitive basketball leagues at the top end because of (conference) expansion.”

The concern being that Sankey will push for more power programs to make the tournament and potentially squeeze out some of the “little guys.”

Izzo, one of the game’s greatest coaches and a winner on Thursday in the 8-9 matchup against Mississippi State, discussed another possible change this week.

With the recent run of conference tournament upsets, Izzo said expanding the tournament beyond 68 teams “should be looked at seriously” to help more teams get in.

Here’s one person’s opinion: keep the format the way it is.

Making the tournament is difficult and special.

The inclusion of the mid-major teams is a HUGE part of what makes people excited for the tournament — and the upsets create the unforgettable stories we talk about forever.

It’s true that big-name schools advancing in the NCAA tournament lead to better TV ratings as the tourney advances.

But those schools will win out deep into the tournament most often — and fans shouldn’t be concerned with TV ratings any way.

➡️ Here’s another question: what has Sankey done recently to make college sports better?

His job is to help the SEC — and he’s done that with the league’s growth in power and revenue.

But as it relates to the big picture of college sports — and the fan experience — the good and bad of Sankey’s moves make for an interesting comparison.

The future of college athletics might depend on it.


Tennessee fans love Peyton Manning.

So the newsletter closes with a simple note: the Sheriff was back on campus this week (both for athletic and academic purposes).

Have a great weekend!

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