Rick Barnes brought Dalton Knecht to Tennessee for offense, but he couldn’t do it alone in the Elite Eight

Tennessee knew that it needed to add on the offensive end, and Rick Barnes went out and got the best perimeter scorer in the entire country last offseason, but the pieces around Knecht came up short in the Elite Eight.
Tennessee Volunteers guard Dalton Knecht (3)
Tennessee Volunteers guard Dalton Knecht (3) / Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY

Defense has never been the issue for a Rick Barnes-coached team, but for years, with Texas and Tennessee, Barnes has struggled to get enough scoring in March. It’s the biggest reason he hasn’t been back to the Final Four since taking the Longhorns there in 2003. It’s something he tried to solve by adding Dalton Knecht through the transfer portal, but even with 37 points on 14-31 shooting from the Naismith Player of the Year Finalist, the Volunteers failed to reach 70 points in the 72-66 Elite Eight loss to Purdue. 

Knecht’s teammates went just 10-31 from the field and no other Volunteer scored in double-digits. It wasn’t Barnes’s plan to become one-dimensional on the offensive end, but as Purdue head coach Matt Painter put it, it’s not a bad idea to give a player like that the ball. 

“I thought it's smart on their part. Someone got a hot hand, go to him. Why not? If you had to pick someone off their team that you want to get shots for, he'd be the one,” Painter said postgame, praising his counterpart’s in-game decision-making. “Then when you look back on things, you're like this guy took the most shots, this guy took the most shots. They needed a little more balance, but at the end of the day, when something's not working, why not stay with it? I thought it made sense to stay with him and keep going.”

From the outside, it’s easy to say that a more balanced attack could have kept Tennessee’s season alive, but without Knecht’s effort and Tennessee's willingness to feed its best player, it could have been even worse. Shots weren’t falling for the rest of the team and when that’s the case, well, Knecht came from Northern Colorado to Knoxville for a reason. 

“We go into games looking for balance, but if guys aren’t getting it done, we have a guy that we can rely on,” Barnes told reporters postgame. “Do you want that? We really don’t, but when he gets it going, we want him to do what he does and our players understand that.”

The transfer portal can be a great thing, it can add a missing piece like Knecht that can propel a team to the Elite Eight, but continuity, in many cases, is even better. Purdue has built its team around Edey for four years, Knecht only became the centerpiece of Tennessee mid-way through this season. 

Edey had it going just as well as Knecht did, finishing with 40 points. Though Purdue rarely seemed one-dimensional. Fletcher Loyer added 14 points, though he needed 12 shots to do it, and Braden Smith finished with nine points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. The team that has been together for two years knew how to respond when its best player took over the game, they knew what he needed, how to get shots, and most importantly how to get him the ball, Tennessee did not. 

“All the baskets we got and all the looks we got, we knew how they were going to come. We knew how they were going to get kicked out to us or on the break going and getting them,” Loyer said postgame. “Everything we've seen, it's a credit to our coaches showing us the film, showing us where we're going to get our baskets, and having us prepare and be ready for it.”

Tennessee on the other hand, looked to Knecht to solve all its problems on the offensive end, and in a head-to-head contest with the two-time National Player of the Year, that’s a lot to ask.

Dalton Knecht was incredible in the Elite Eight, he was everything Rick Barnes hoped he’d be and more. The rest of Barnes’s group, the players who have been in Knoxville for four and five years at least on the offensive end, weren’t enough. Matt Painter has seen this exact problem before and the good news is he has a solution. 

“We don't need to change everything. But we do need to make some subtle changes,” Painter said of his group’s past tournament disappointments. Later adding, “We've played more offensive guys. We have more skill that is out there.”

Multiple times in the postgame, Painter talked about how he has prioritized getting more skilled players on the floor, and the addition of Knecht has signaled a shift in that direction for Barnes as well. However, as Barnes learned in the most painful possible way, it takes more than just one.

Next. Tennessee fouls out of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee fouls out of the NCAA Tournament. dark