Tennessee’s dynamo point guard Zakai Ziegler has torn his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season, per the Tennessee Volunteers’ official Twitter account.
On Tuesday, Ziegler went down early in the first half of Tennessee’s win over Arkansas. Unfortunately, this adds to the litany of injuries that have plagued Tennessee’s 2022-2023 campaign. Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi, Julian Phillips, and Tyreke Key have all missed multiple games this season. Despite this, Tennessee remains an analytical giant, possessing top-four ratings on Kenpom, T-Rank, and Haslametrics.
A Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist, Ziegler averaged 10.7 points, 5.4 assists, and 2 steals a game. Ziegler’s production will take a lot of work to replace as he has the highest usage rate on the team. Who steps up?
Vescovi has been Tennessee’s best player this season. He is the leading scorer on the team and has been elite on both ends. The guard will continue to carry a substantial portion of the offense on his shoulders. Vescovi must remain efficient for this offense. With the depth in the front court, Vescovi must be able to provide the outside scoring Tennessee will be missing.
Lauded for his immense defensive ability, Mashack will be relied on to pick up some point-creation responsibility. While not recognized for his ability as a shooter, Mashack is a competent passer and rebounding guard. Since losing to Vanderbilt, Mashack has seen his minutes increase vastly. His length and defensive stopping ability will be paramount to Tennessee’s long-term success.
Missing the last two games, Tyreke Key is expected to return to play at Auburn on Saturday. While not the prototypical lead guard, Key possesses enough offensive creativity to pick up some offensive ability lost with Ziegler’s absence. However, Key has had a brutal season shooting the basketball at a reasonably high volume. For a team with national championship hopes, the Vols have little room for a significant step backward on offense. While not Curry-like from three, Ziegler was a high-volume three-point shooter and ranked 15th in the SEC in threes made per game, in addition to his elite playmaking ability.
Per BetOnline, Tennessee is +1800 to win the national championship and +400 to reach the Final Four.