Tennessee Volunteers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 17th 2024

Dalton Knecht owns the highest scoring average for a Tennessee player in eight years. Zakai Zeigler might be the team’s inspirational leader, and Josiah-Jordan James is the glue guy.

However, the case can be made that 6-foot-11 Jonas Aidoo is becoming its true X factor. On nights when he plays well, the No. 8 Volunteers are just about unstoppable.

Tennessee hopes Aidoo will be a key contributor again on Saturday during a Southeastern Conference home game against in-state rival Vanderbilt in Knoxville, Tenn.

A case in point for Aidoo’s value: In the Volunteers’ 92-63 road rout of Arkansas on Wednesday, Aidoo led the way with 23 points and 12 rebounds. The team’s second-leading scorer doubled his 11.8-point average in a dominant display.

“When he plays with force to the rim like he did (Wednesday) — I thought he played much quicker,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said of Aidoo. “I thought he looked relaxed shooting his 15-footers. But what he did at the rim and in the second half was really big.”

In addition to an improving touch, Aidoo is the team’s top rebounder at 7.5 per game and also offers excellent rim protection, blocking 1.8 shots per game. His presence helped the Volunteers (18-6, 8-3 SEC) double up Arkansas 46-23 in the second half.

Knecht continues to lead the team in scoring at 20.4 points per game, good for second in the SEC. He is coming off a 22-point effort against the Razorbacks in which he hit 7 of 14 from the field and 7 of 10 at the foul line. Zeigler is contributing 10.9 points and 5.6 assists per contest.

Tennessee enters the weekend a game back of first-place Alabama and a half-game behind Auburn and South Carolina in the conference. The Volunteers still have road games remaining against the Crimson Tide and the Gamecocks plus a home game to play against the Tigers.

Vanderbilt (7-17, 2-9) would love to play the spoiler. The Commodores at least come in with confidence after upsetting Texas A&M 74-73 Tuesday night on Ezra Manjon’s buzzer-beating floater that capped a 19-point performance.

It was the third time in the past two years that Manjon has been involved in a game-winner. He assisted Tyrin Lawrence on a last-second 3-pointer last season to beat visiting Tennessee and then defeated Auburn two weeks later with a driving layup in the final second.

“He’s made plays like that before,” Commodores coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Not just for himself but again still go back to last year … he makes the right play. And I think that’s all you want from your point guard to do is to make the right play.”

Manjon leads the team in scoring (14.5 ppg) and assists (3.6 per game). Lawrence chips in 13.7 ppg and Ven-Allen Lubin, who fired in a game-high 25 against Texas A&M, contributes 11.1. However, Vanderbilt has struggled on offense all year, ranking last in the SEC in scoring (66.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage (39.5 percent).

Knecht fired in 32 points on Jan. 27 in the teams’ first meeting, a 75-62 Volunteers win in Nashville. Tennessee overcame a 35-30 halftime deficit.

–Field Level Media

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