There might definitely be some (ongoing) temptation among Washington Huskies fans to hate on the Kentucky Wildcats, coach John Calipari, and/or Terrence Jones after the recruiting fiasco earlier this year.
But if UW coach Lorenzo Romar has the class to forgive then so can we.
Romar: No hard feelings about Kanter, Jones — Jerry Tipton on UK basketball
Was there bad blood between the teams, a reporter asked Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar after his Huskies blitzed Virginia 106-63 Monday night.
"If I really wanted to do the media a favor, I could make up some wild story: we hate Kentucky," Romar said. "Sorry, that’s not the case. . . . We respect the Kentucky program and the job they do."
Of course some intrepid newshound will probably sniff out some sort of fresh angle on this, but barring the "discovery" of ethics violations it's hard to imagine what that would be.
And although I can't provide a fresh take on this story, I can say this: watching Jones embarrass opponents while wearing a Kentucky jersey is painful even as Washington appears to be establishing juggernaut-like momentum as the two collide.
It flat out sucks to think about what could have been if Jones had maintained his commitment.
It's about what could have been with an agile and heretofore unstoppable 6-foot-8 player who went to high school in the Northwest and plays as though he takes great pleasure in repeatedly beating down the opposition.
Even if the Huskies end up making a deep tournament run, it will still be tempting to wonder just how much better might they have been with Jones in the fold.
But at least for today, there's an opportunity to take back some bragging rights in this drama by handling business on the court.
Of course that will start with handling Jones.
Key Player: Terrence Jones
For both teams, there was some question entering the Maui Invitational about how well they'd perform against competition from the nation's strongest conferences.
Last night, we got an answer for both: very well.
But perhaps the thing that happened for Kentucky is what we expected to happen to a greater extent for Washington: the marquee star took over and essentially carried the team.
Against Oklahoma yesterday, Jones ended up contributing almost 50 percent of Kentucky's overall weighted statistical production. As much as his game-high 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting contributed to UK's win, more impressive is that for all the possessions he used - as a freshman, mind you - he was extremely efficient as a scorer and surprisingly efficient as a ball handler, turning the ball over on only 7.7 percent of his possessions.
Yet the fact that he also got a game-high 14 percent of the offensive rebounds available to him might also be significant looking ahead to tonight's meeting.
Key statistical battleground: offensive rebounding
Washington, as people will remind you, has been a very good rebounding team this season. However, they were hardly able to dominate the boards against UVA, allowing them to pick up over 30 percent of the available offensive rebounds during the game and hold UW to five offensive rebounds in the second half. We can imagine multiple explanations for that - including UW's hot shooting and UVA's shooting struggles for stretches - but the Huskies just weren't quite as dominant as they had been against previous competition.
Meanwhile, UK - led by Jones - was a bit more impressive on the boards than they had been, managing to outrebound Oklahoma by a mildly significant margin. That rebounding against a sizeable opponent was an encouraging sign for Glenn Logan of SBN's Kentucky blog Sea of Blue.
Kentucky (12) 76, Oklahoma 64: Postmortem - A Sea Of Blue
I am going to resist the temptation to blast the young Wildcats for this lackadaisical performance. We have to remember that this team is not only painfully young, but that they have no experience in tiny, hot gyms 6000 miles away to draw upon. Basically, I just used a lot of words to say, "This team is young, and tonight, it showed."
There were some positives to appreciate -- once again, Terrence Jones proved to be the emotional leader of the team, and he translated that emotion into yet another double-double. Kentucky once again won on the offensive glass, and this time against a team that was as big as they are.
And watching the way Jones plays, keeping him off the boards will be moreso a matter of desire and hustle that might test the will power of the Huskies frontcourt - it's definitely the opposite of how people might have perceived UW center Matthew Bryan-Amaning in past years.
Conversely, to UW's advantage is that they gang rebound well, as evidenced by last night's game in which Isaiah Thomas led the team with six defensive rebounds while senior Justin Holiday led with four offensive rebounds. And UK will have to contend with Bryan-Amaning and freshman center Aziz N'Diaye in the paint.
Each team will have its different challenges in winning the battle of the boards and it's hard to determine how exactly that will play out.
How Washington might win this game
Looking beyond statistics, it's clear UK has more talent than Jones alone, but the numbers do establish something mildly interesting about the division of labor on this team - their core statistical producers thus far this season have been a trio of freshman: Jones, 2010 Gatorade Male Player of the Year Brandon Knight, and 6-foot-4 guard Doron Lamb.
That stands in stark contrast to a UW team that definitely has one player consistently at or near the front of their charge in junior Isaiah Thomas but has gotten a significantly different combination of contributions each game - last night, it was Holiday, before that sophomore guard Abdul Gaddy, and before that Bryan-Amaning. What makes the Huskies difficult to plan for this season is that there is no one point of attack and that is combined with a mix of experience and youth. That's something that might worry fans of this Kentucky team that is "painfully young" as Logan referred to above.
But another concern for Kentucky might be defense, as described by Logan below.
Big Blue Game Preview: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Washington Huskies - A Sea Of Blue
The one thing, besides experience, that worries me about this matchup is that Washington should be a much better defensive team. Offensively, you can't really pick between them, but you have to worry about UK's defense (or rather, their lack of it) particularly given what we saw last night. I think Kentucky allowed Oklahoma to slow the game down last night, and when UK got comfortable in that pace, the Sooners began getting out on the break and scoring in transition. The one encouraging thing is that despite the fact the Huskies should be better defensively, they haven't been so far.
The point to that last paragraph is this -- if UK cannot stop the Sooners in transition, they have absolutely no chance of stopping the Huskies.
Even if Kentucky throws this funky "Calzone" defense at UW, it's hard to imagine a zone that stops a team that can score in transition off turnovers, shoot 17-for-26 from beyond the arc, hit mid-range shots more consistently, and find points in the post when necessary. UW is not a one-man team and it cannot be easy for an inexperienced team with suspect defense to stop all of that.
But what this will provide is both a test of mental fortitude and that basketball versatility. As Logan suggests in his preview, win or lose, tonight's game will tell us a lot about where the Huskies are.
And that still might not prevent us from imagining how much better things could have been with Jones.
For more from the Kentucky perspective, visit A Sea of Blue's link roundup.