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The EA Sports Maui Invitational: Looking at UK's First Two Opponents

Will Maui become a Kentucky Wildcats (2-0; No. 12 AP; No. 13 ESPN/USA Today Coaches) paradise for only the second time in five tries?  The boys in blue will begin to find the answer to that question on Monday at 5:30 EST against the Oklahoma Sooners on ESPN2.

Having won only a single Maui Invitational tournament title (1993 on a Jeff Brassow last mili-second put-back) in four previous appearances ('93, '97, '02, '06), the 'Cats will look to exit paradise with a duffel bag full of shiny new hardware.  But more importantly, coach John Calipari should have a good idea of how far his team has come since the beginning of practice in mid-October.  For the competition has more experience, more size, and the talent to send the 'Cats home with their tail between their legs ... or, will the 'Cats claw their way up the Maui ladder and put the nation on notice?

Regardless, it should be an exciting tournament.  For the particulars of UK's initial opponent, and the second round  possibilities, follow me after the jump.   

First up for the 'Cats are the ...

Oklahoma Sooners -- Go here for my pregame look at Jeff Capel's squad for

Next up for Kentucky will either be the University of Washington Huskies, or the University of Virginia Cavaliers.  Let's begin with the ...

Washington Huskies (2-0; No. 17 AP; No. 15 ESPN/USA Today Coaches) 

Results: Beat McNeese State, 118-64; beat Eastern Washington, 98-72.

Selected by most prognosticators to win the Pac 10 this season, UW returns several key contributors from last season's 26-10 (11-7) third place Pac 10 squad.  But Lorenzo Romar's team lost its leading scorer to the NBA in the form of Quincy Pondexter (19.3 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game), an athletic, 6-6, 225 lb swingman. 

Picking up the slack for the Huskies in 2010-2011 is 6-9, 240 lb senior forward Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  Bryan-Amaning is averaging 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds per game (5.5 offensive rpg) for UW after putting up 8.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year.  The solid shooting frontcourt player is making 61.5% of his shots from the floor (16-26) and provides Romar with a physical presence in the paint.  Helping out in the Huskie frontcourt is 6-6, 180 lb senior forward Justin Holiday.  Holiday, who averaged only 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season, has raised his scoring average to 14.5 points per game so far this year.  Not the physical player Bryan-Amaning is, Holiday will drift out beyond the arc and take a three-pointer (3-9 on the year), but still rebound the ball effectively (4.0 rpg).

Adding depth and bulk to the Huskie front line is 6-8, 225 lb forward Darnell Gant.  Gant, who doesn't shoot the ball often (4-13 from the field; 30.8%), does provide Washington with rebounding (3.5 pg).  Gant is averaging 5.5 points per contest.

Freshman swing Terrence Ross, an athletic, 6-6, 180 lb freshman, is being looked at to provide immediate help, and has so far come through for Romar -- Ross is averaging 7.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.  A strong shooter from outside, Ross has yet to find his range at the collegiate level: Ross has made only six of 16 shots from the field (37.5%) and 2-9 long range tries (22.2%).

The spark plug, the man who makes the Huskies go, is 5-8, 185 lb junior point guard Isaiah Thomas.  A 1st Team All-Pac 10 selection last year, Thomas is super quick, both offensively and defensively.  He is averaging 13.0 points and 3.5 assists per game, and shooting the ball quite well, making 47.1% of his shots from the floor, and 62.5% of his trey tries (5-8).  Pondexter was the unquestioned leader of last season's Huskies team, and his absence opens the door for Thomas to take over the leadership mantel. 

Abdul Gaddy, a 6-3, 190 lb sophomore guard, has been very solid in the early going of the 2011 season, averaging 11.5 points per game, and leading the squad in assists with 5.5 per contest.  Gaddy is shooting the ball extremely well, making 9-14 shots overall (64.3%), and 4-6 three-point attempts (66.7%).  Adding depth, experience, and a fearsome defensive presence to the Huskie backcourt is 5-11 senior guard Venoy Overton.  While not averaging a ton of points (5.5 pg), he provides Washington with great court vision (team-leading 7.0 apg) and a toughness all good teams need (4.0 rebounds & 3.5 steals pg).

Rounding out the UW rotation is redshirt freshman C. J. Wilcox (10.5 ppg & 4.5 rpg).  Possibly the team's best three-point shooter, Wilcox has made 5-11 trey attempts (45.5%) and six of 13 shots overall (46.2%).  Six-six, 185 lb junior guard Scott Suggs will also see plenty of floor time, and is so far averaging 10.0 points and 3.0 assists per game.  Another outside threat, Suggs is making 38.5% of his shots behind the line.

Romar also has at his disposal 7-0 sophomore transfer (College of Southern Idaho), center Aziz N'Diaye.  N'Diaye, a shot-blocker extraordinaire, has yet to see much floor time this season.

The other possible second round Wildcat opponent are the ...

Virginia Cavaliers (2-1)

Results: Beat William & Mary, 76-52, beat South Carolina Upstate, 74-54, lost @ Stanford, 81-60.

Second-year Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett is firmly in rebuilding mode.  After posting a better-than-expected 15-16 (5-11) record last season, Bennett returns only five scholarship players to campus this year, and making a bad situation worse, he lost his best player in highly touted swingman Sylven Landesberg (17.3 points & 4.9 rebounds pg), and experienced guard Jeff Jones (7.3 ppg)  Bennett, though, hit the recruiting trail, and reeled in some big fish who will contribute to this year's Cavalier effort.  But, despite Bennett's recruiting haul, the Cavaliers are picked by most to come in last in the 12-team ACC.

Virginia is led this year by 6-8, 240 lb senior forward Mike Scott (a blast from the UK past).  Scott averages 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest.  He has become a solid shooter in the paint area, evidenced by his 15-27 accuracy from the field (55.6%), and Scott is solid from the free throw line, having made 15-17 charity tosses (88.2%).  A ferocious rebounder, Scott will sorely test the the big blue big men if the two teams face one another.  Assane Sene, a 7-0, 234 lb junior center starts for the Cavs but plays only 12.7 minutes per game.  In the game primarily as a defender, Sene has yet to block a shot, and averages only 1.3 rebounds per game. 

Also manning the frontcourt for Virginia is 6-9, 217 lb senior forward Will Sherrill.  Sherrill, a big man who will pop-out and take the occasional three-pointer (3-6 on the year), will also mix it up under the basket, grabbing 4.0 rebounds per game.  Overall from the field, Sherrill is 5-11 (45.5%).

Running the show for the Cavaliers is 5-11, 185 lb point guard Jontel Evans.  While only a sophomore, Evans gained valuable experience last season as a rookie, and has displayed a defensive intensity unusual for a player so young, a commodity coach Bennett looks for in his players.  Evans has shot and distributed the ball very keenly thus far; he has made 11-20 field goals (55.0%), and he's averaging 4.3 assists per game (13 assists to only four turnovers).  The other starting guard is 6-4, 175 lb senior Mustapha Farrakhan.  Farrakhan is averaging 11.7 points per game, and 1.7 assists per game.  Not shooting the ball with efficiency so far this year (11-26 field goal attempts for 42.3%; 6-18 three-point tries for 33.3%), he's been a dead-eye at the free throw line where he's made 7-8.

The future of the Virginia basketball program, though, lies with the three super freshmen Bennett brought to the Cavalier campus: The 4A Alabama Player of the Year, 6-5, 200 lb guard K. T. Harrell.  Harrell has found himself playing a key role this season, and is averaging 7.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.  He's not shooting the ball with great confidence yet, having made only eight of 21 shots (38.1%), but he seems to be finding the range on the long bombs; Harrell is 4-10 from beyond the arc (40.0%).  The next, next great Cavalier is 6-2, 188 guard Billy Baron.  The son of Rhode Island coach Jim Baron, Billy prepped last season at Worcester (MA) Academy, and his time their seems to have been well spent.  This season, Baron is averaging 11.7 points per game, and sports an 8-1 assist to turnover ratio.  Baron's shooting from the field has also been solid -- 10-17 overall for 58.8%; 7-13 from long-range good for 53.8% -- and like many coach's sons, he brings enthusiasm to the defensive end of the floor. 

Rounding out the super frosh Cav contributors is 6-6, 202 lb guard Joe Harris.  Harris has provided Bennett with depth in the backcourt, as well as a knack for scoring (7.3 ppg).  He is shooting the rock pretty well early on (8-17, 47.1%), especially from three-point range where he's made five of 13 attempts (38.5%).

Kentucky 81  Notre Dame 76

A big congratulations to UK Hoops, aka, the No. 9 ranked Kentucky Wildcats women's basketball team for their epic win over No. 12 ranked Notre Dame on Sunday afternoon in Memorial Coliseum.  Coach Matthew Mitchell's Wildcats are working on a 20-game Memorial winning streak.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!