Knecht Wins SEC Player of the Year, Zeigler Defensive Player of the Year; Aidoo All-SEC
Courtesy / UT Athletics

Knecht Wins SEC Player of the Year, Zeigler Defensive Player of the Year; Aidoo All-SEC

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. –Dalton Knecht of the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team is the 2023-24 SEC Player of the Year, while Zakai Zeigler is the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, as selected by the league’s head coaches and announced Monday afternoon by the conference office.

Both Knecht and Zeigler also received First Team All-SEC plaudits, while Jonas Aidoo collected Second Team All-SEC distinction. Zeigler and Aidoo were both named among the five SEC All-Defensive Team selections.

This is the fourth time in the last 43 seasons (1981-2024) multiple Tennessee players earned First Team All-SEC status, joining 2018-19, 2013-14 and 2007-08. This is also the third time during that span three Volunteers received first-, second- or (now defunct) third-team accolades, alongside the 2018-19 and 2007-08 campaigns.

“I am thrilled for Dalton, Zakai and Jonas,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “Each of them contributed significantly to our team winning the regular season championship in the best league in the country. All three are so deserving of these honors based off their excellent play throughout the year.”

A fifth-year guard, Knecht turned in one of the finest regular seasons in SEC history. He averaged a conference-best 21.4 points per game, along with 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per contest, while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 40.5 percent beyond the arc. The four-time SEC Player of the Week and two-time USBWA National Player of the Week, who became the first SEC competitor with back-to-back 35-point games since LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal in Feb. 1991, recorded 24.8 points per game in his 11 road outings as a Volunteer, notching 22-plus points in eight of them.

In league play, Knecht tallied a dazzling 25.5 points per game, the second-best mark in the SEC over the past 22 seasons (2002-24)—South Carolina’s Devan Downey averaged 26.2 in 2009-10—and the best mark of any Division I player in conference competition this year. He and Purdue’s Zach Edey (25.4) posted the highest league scoring averages by any Power Six individuals since Marquette’s Markus Howard (28.7) and Iowa’s Luka Garza (26.2) in 2019-20.

A 6-foot-6, 213-pounder from Thornton, Colo., Knecht ranks first nationally in both 39-point (three) and 35-point (five) performances, with each number tied for the program single-season record. He is also third in 30-point outings (seven) and co-No. 11 in 25-point games (11) among Division I players. He is the second SEC player in the last 14 years (2010-24) with at least five 35-point displays and/or seven 30-point showings in a season, joining Arkansas’ Mason Jones (2019-20). Knecht, a finalist for the Julius Erving Award, has five of the top nine single-game scoring totals by an SEC player this year, including a career-best 40-point showing Saturday against No. 15/13 Kentucky in his final home game.

A junior guard, Zeigler averaged 11.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and an SEC-leading 6.0 assists per game during the regular season. He shot 40.4 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from 3-point range, while placing fourth in the league with 1.9 steals per outing. The Long Island, N.Y., native’s 2.80 assist-to-turnover ratio is fourth-best in the conference and his 1.94 3-point makes per game place top 15.

Zeigler was even better in SEC action, putting up 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and a conference-best 7.0 assists per game, while shooting 43.6 percent overall and 36.9 percent on 3-pointers. He also compiled 2.1 steals per outing to rank second and notched a 3.15 assist-to-turnover ratio to place third. Additionally, he finished third in minutes average (34.1), co-No. 11 in made 3-pointers per game (2.28) and No. 19 in scoring.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pounder owns the top two single-game assist totals by an SEC player this year, notching a career-best 14 in a Feb. 24 win over Texas A&M and 13 in a Feb. 3 victory at No. 10/8 Kentucky, a game in which he also tied a career high with 26 points. Zeigler posted two double-doubles, while finishing one point or one assist shy of four others. He scored in double figures in 17 of the final 23 contests, registering 17-plus points in 10 of them. One of 15 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Watch List members, Zeigler has multiple steals 15 times this season, with four-plus in seven.

A junior forward, Aidoo tallied 12.1 points on 53.3 percent field-goal shooting, 7.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game during the regular season, the latter three marks all third-best in the SEC. He also placed fourth in the league in offensive rebounding (2.9) and sixth in defensive rebounding (4.7), as well as co-third in double-doubles (eight) and third in 20-point, 10-rebound outings (three), the latter figure tied for the third-most by a Volunteer in the last two decades (2004-24).

Aidoo performed his best during SEC competition, averaging 13.3 points, 8.3 boards and 2.2 blocks per contest, while shooting 54.7 percent from the floor. His rebounding and field-goal clips both ranked second in the league, while his blocked shots average put him fourth. The Durham, N.C., native also ranked co-third in offensive rebounding (3.3) and third in defensive rebounding (4.9).

A 6-foot-11, 240-pounder, Aidoo has tallied double-digit points in 20 affairs in 2023-24, including 10 of the final 11 in the regular season. He has reached 17 points in seven affairs, with 23-plus in three and a high of 29 in a Dec. 12 victory over Georgia Southern. Aidoo possesses 10 double-digit rebounding displays this season, including grabbing 15 boards in a Jan. 13 triumph at Georgia, the top total by a Volunteer in over five years. He blocked multiple shots in 19 appearances, with three-plus in 10, four-plus in five and five on two occasions, both in league play.

Knecht, Zeigler and Aidoo led fifth-ranked Tennessee (24-7, 14-4 SEC) to the program’s 11th SEC regular season title, including its sixth outright crown. The Volunteers are the top seed in the SEC Tournament and begin play, after a double-bye, Friday at 1 p.m. ET at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., live on ESPN.

HISTORICAL NOTES – SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Ten different Tennessee players have now combined to win a total of 14 SEC Player of the Year honors from at least one of the three voting bodies (AP, Coaches and UPI) across 13 different seasons, all of which are the second-most of any school. This is the third time in the last seven years a Volunteer received the nod, as Grant Williams did so back-to-back in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Knecht is the ninth transfer to win SEC Player of the Year from any of the three voting bodies, including the first to come from a mid-major Division I school. The others are Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (2021-22; West Virginia), Arkansas’ Mason Jones (2019-20; junior college), LSU’s Marcus Thornton (2008-09; junior college), Vanderbilt’s Derrick Byars (2006-07; Virginia), Mississippi State’s Lawrence Roberts (2003-04; Baylor), Auburn’s Chris Porter (1998-99; junior college); Vanderbilt’s Billy McCaffrey (1992-93; Duke) and Kentucky’s Kyle Macy (1979-80; Purdue).

Knecht, Tshiebwe, Roberts, Porter and McCaffrey are the lone five transfers to tally the honor in their first year active. Knecht, Roberts and Porter the only other three to win it in their first season without first sitting out a season/semester.

NOTE: The Associated Press (AP) has given out an SEC Player of the Year award every season since 1964-65, while the SEC Coaches have done so since 1986-87. United Press International (UPI) gave out an award from 1964-65 through 1991-92.

HISTORICAL NOTES – SEC DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Zeigler is the second Tennessee player to win the league’s premier defensive honor, joining Yves Pons, who did so in 2019-20. The only other schools to have at least two different individuals garner the trophy—it has been distributed in its current format since 2003-04—are Florida, Kentucky (six), LSU and South Carolina.

Over the 21 seasons the SEC Defensive Player of the Year or Defensive MVP award have been handed out, Zeigler is the third player under 6-foot to win it. The others are 5-foot-11 Tremont Waters of LSU (2018-19) and 5-foot-8 Tyler Ulis of Kentucky (2015-16).

Of the 24 SEC Defensive Player of the Year winners—it was shared thrice—Zeigler is just the 13th to collect First Team All-SEC designation in the same season. The others are Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins (2022-23), Auburn’s Walker Kessler (2021-22), Alabama’s Herbert Jones (2020-21), LSU’s Tremont Waters (2018-19), South Carolina’s Chris Silva (2017-18), Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (2015-16), Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein (2014-15), Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel (2012-13), Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (2011-12), Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado (2008-09 and 2009-10) and Kentucky’s Chuck Hayes (2004-05).

HISTORICAL NOTES – ALL-SEC TEAMS

Tennessee is the first team since Kentucky in 2021-22 to have three first- or second-team All-SEC picks. That season, the Wildcats placed Oscar Tshiebwe on the first team, while TyTy Washington Jr., and Shavir Wheeler made the second team.

The Volunteers are the first team since Alabama in 2020-21 with two first-team choices and a second-team honoree. That year, the Crimson Tide had Herbert Jones and John Petty Jr., on the first team, with Jaden Shackelford on the second team.

As aforementioned, this is the fourth time in the last 43 seasons (1981-2024) multiple Volunteers collected First Team All-SEC honors, alongside 2018-19, 2013-14 and 2007-08. This is also the third instance in that span in which three Tennessee players received first-, second- or third-team (defunct since 2002-03) nods, joining 2018-19 and 2007-08.

HISTORICAL NOTES – SEC ALL-DEFENSIVE TEAM

Zeigler is just the fourth three-time All-SEC Defensive Team—selections were made in 1990-91, 1991-92 and from 2007-08 to present—honoree in league history. The others are Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10), Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor (2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12) and Ole Miss’ Reginald Buckner (2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13). Those three were all forwards who stood at least 6-foot-7.

This is just the eighth season—ninth occurrence—in which multiple players from the same team made the cut. The other instances came in 2019-20 (Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards of Kentucky), 2013-14 (Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young of Florida), 2012-13 (Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young of Florida), 2011-12 (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky), 2009-10 (Devan Downey and Sam Muldrow of South Carolina), 2008-09 (Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson of LSU, as well as Dominique Archey and Devan Downey of South Carolina), 1991-92 (Robert Horry and Latrell Sprewell of Alabama) and 1990-91 (Shawn Griggs and Shaquille O’Neal of LSU).

This is only the fourth time in those 19 seasons a team has had two SEC All-Defensive Team picks with one winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year or Defensive MVP (an award only given in 1990-91 and 1991-92). The others are 2013-14 Florida (Young), 2011-12 Kentucky (Davis) and 1990-91 LSU (O’Neal).

Aidoo is the fifth different Tennessee player to make the SEC All-Defensive Team, joining JaJuan Smith (2007-08), Josh Richardson (2013-14 and 2014-15), Yves Pons (2019-20 and 2020-21) and Zakai Zeigler (2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24). In total, a Volunteer has made the cut nine times across eight seasons.

To keep up with the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team on social media, follow @Vol_Hoops on Instagram and X/Twitter, as well as /tennesseebasketball on Facebook.  

2023-24 SEC MEN’S BASKETBALL AWARDS

Coach of the Year: Lamont Paris, South Carolina
Player of the Year: Dalton Knecht, Tennessee
Scholar-Athlete of the Year:
 Sean East II, Missouri
Freshman of the Year: Reed Sheppard, Kentucky
Sixth Man of the Year: Rob Dillingham, Kentucky
Defensive Player of the Year: Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee

First Team
Mark Sears, Alabama
Johni Broome, Auburn
Zyon Pullin, Florida
Antonio Reeves, Kentucky
Tolu Smith III, Mississippi State
Dalton Knecht, Tennessee
Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee

Wade Taylor IV, Texas A&M

Second Team
Jaylin Williams, Auburn
Walter Clayton Jr., Florida
Rob Dillingham, Kentucky
Reed Sheppard, Kentucky
Matthew Murrell, Ole Miss
Josh Hubbard, Mississippi State
Ta’Lon Cooper, South Carolina
Meechie Johnson, South Carolina
Jonas Aidoo, Tennessee

All-Defensive Team
Johni Broome, Auburn
Cameron Matthews, Mississippi State
Jonas Aidoo, Tennessee
Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee

Andersson Garcia, Texas A&M

All-Freshman Team
Aden Holloway, Auburn
Alex Condon, Florida
Silas Demary Jr., Georgia
Rob Dillingham, Kentucky
Reed Sheppard, Kentucky
D.J. Wagner, Kentucky
Josh Hubbard, Mississippi State
Collin Murray-Boyles, South Carolina

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