I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Feast Week is the best week of the college basketball season outside of March (and, well, I guess April too).
Look at tonight’s slate of game. We start with No. 2 Michigan State taking on a UConn team with the best player in the country over the first two weeks of the season. At the same time, we get to see a Gonzaga team (No. 18) with top 10 talent that has struggled early in the season take on Marquette, the scrappy Big East sleeper that lost to Duke in a dogfight last night.
And those two games?
Those are the undercards.
No one is talking about them.
Because the main event is just so damn intriguing.
Tipping out in Maui somewhere around 9:30 pm EST will be No. 9 Kentucky and No. 11 Washington. The matchup on the court is exciting in and of itself. The Huskies looked like a completely different team last night in taking out the Virginia Cavaliers 106-63. They ran up and down the floor on the Cavs, taking advantage of all the athletes Lorenzo Romar has populating his roster. Isaiah Thomas looked like an all-american. Abdul Gaddy showed why he was the best point guard not named John Wall in the class of 2009. Justin Holiday showed why U-Dub fans are so excited about his all-around game. As a team, Washington not only hit 17-26 from three, they actually dug in defensively.
If there was any downfall to the game, it was that the Huskie’s break was so effective, we didn’t get a chance to see what big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning can do.
This appears to be a different Washington team than last season. This group may actually exceed their hype.
Then there is Kentucky. As you know, Kentucky is loaded — talented freshmen, athletic wings, and a roster that really suits John Calipari’s dribble drive motion offense. Kentucky was not quite as impressive as Washington was last night — Brandon Knight was off and Oklahoma seemed like they were playing with a chip on their shoulder — but freshman Terrence Jones was. A 6’9″ face-up power forward, Jones used his superior quickness to get by his defender on the perimeter while simply out muscling players he can jump over to finish at the rim. His 29 point, 13 rebound, 4 block, 3 assist, 2 steal performance was almost as good as Kemba Walker’s second half.
And Jones is why this game’s intrigue has been taken to another level.
If you remember, Jones’ recruitment held the college basketball world’s attention for a month in the spring. Originally committing to the Huskies, it was reported that 15 minutes after his press conference — where he declined to sign a Letter of Intent — he was on the phone with John Calipari. His commitment was up in the air for a month before Jones held a second press conference to announce his commitment to Kentucky.
As you might imagine, this upset Washington fans. Players, too. Thomas, the face of the Washington program, tweeted the following after Jones announced for Kentucky:
I hope we play KENTUCKY nxt yr n the Maui classic,” Thomas wrote. “All I gotta say is ITS BOUT TO GO DOWN … A BARK over a meow ne day.
He wasn’t done, going on to say “been there KILLD that lol” about Brandon Knight, “That jus sounds so weird to me. who wants to be BIG and BLUE? Like the avatar? Or the blue dudes that use to be n those commercials lol??” about Big Blue Nation, and “To be honest BIG BLUE NATION I really don’t think ur coach is coming back!! … My coach is here 4 10 more YRS hahaha yessssss” about Coach Cal.
He was joking, but the gauntlet had been thrown.
That game he was referring? It happens tonight.
And that’s not even the best game of the night on paper!
Over in Kansas City for the finals of the CBE Classic, No. 1 Duke will be taking on No. 4 Kansas State.
The Blue Devils are the consensus favorite to win the national championship this season. They have two senior all-americans on their roster in Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and one of the most talented freshman in the country in Kyrie Irving. Their bench is full of guys that would start for pretty much any other team in the country.
The scary part?
Their best NBA prospect isn’t even one of their three stars. Its Mason Plumlee, a 6’10” sophomore who showcased his potential in last night’s win by putting 25 points, 12 boards, and 5 blocks on an overmatched Marquette front line.
Duke could certainly use another performance like that against Kansas State. The Wildcats have a big, tough, aggressive, and athletic front line. They have a certified star and preseason all-american of their own in Jacob Pullen. They have a perimeter that was questioned in the preseason, but has stepped up early in the season. As a team, they are hitting 39.1% from three through four games, and freshman Will Spradling looks like he is the missing piece to play alongside Pullen.
Put it all together, and its why the Wildcats have two of the most impressive wins in the country right now. Almost by themselves, they have made most in the media consider Virginia Tech and Gonzaga to be vastly overrated.
Almost as impressive as tonight’s TV lineup.
Zach Hayes is a columnist for the college basketball website Rush the Court. This is what he had to say about the night ahead of us:
Don’t call yourself a true college basketball fan if you’re not glued to your TV from 7-1230 ET tonight. One of the best nights of the year.
Couldn’t have put it better myself.