No. 9 Tennessee is the media’s preseason choice to win the Southeastern Conference championship, coming off a 25-win season and a Sweet 16 appearance. But the Volunteers could be counting on newcomers when they open the regular season against visiting Tennessee Tech on Monday in Knoxville. Tennessee tuned up with an 89-88 win at No. 4 Michigan State in an Oct. 29 exhibition game to help raise money for a Maui wildfire relief fund. Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht led the Volunteers with 28 points and USC Upstate transfer Jordan Gainey added 20, including the decisive free throw in the closing seconds. Tennessee played without fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi and junior point guard Zakai Zeigler. Vescovi, a preseason All-SEC first-team selection, was at home in Uruguay with his ailing grandmother. Zeigler, who made the preseason second team, is still working his way back from a torn ACL last February. Their status for the opener is uncertain. “When you’re talking about Santi and Zakai, you’re talking about two guys that are elite defenders, two guys that know what we want, two guys that bring speed to the court when they’re there,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
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