"I had Kentucky against Carolina last year in December and then I had them in the regional final against Carolina and the change in that team was (tremendous). They got better at taking care of the ball, they got better at executing. That same type of trajectory is what you're hoping to see if you're a Kentucky fan."
And if that happens, CBS' Clark Kellogg says there's a good chance you could see Kentucky playing in the Final Four in New Orleans. Kellogg worked his second UK game of this season last Saturday, the Cats' 69-62 victory over Louisville. And during an appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show, I asked Kellogg what areas Kentucky must shore up between now and March to make that happen.
"(You hope) they'll continue to be more effecient offensively, that Marquis Teague will grow as a point guard and that they'll continue to defend at a really high level," Kellogg said. "If they do that, they've got all the ammunition you need to make a run to New Orleans."
Kellogg was one of the nation's most sought-after prospects in his high school days, ultimately choosing Ohio State over Kentucky and other big-name suitors. In the current era, Kellogg would have surely been a one-and-done candidate and he says he can emphathize with the pressure a player like Terrence Jones must feel when he hits a slump.
It wasn't all that long ago that Jones put up 52 points in the Blue-White game. Or that he went for 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks against St. John's. But at the moment, the last image for the sophomore All-America candidate is as "No Show Jones" at Indiana. And now a dislocated pinky finger on his shooting hand has limited Jones' opportunities to erase that memory from Bloomington.
"I'm not sure what is going on in Terrence's head. He's hasn't been nearly as productive the last few games but players go through that," Kellogg noted. "How do you work through it. You give yourself extra time in the gym. You balance trying too hard with giving yourself extra time. It's a process but for young guys, it's hard to look at it that way.
"Try to keep your eye on the big picture and be consistent on the work you're doing to get better. I think that's where you have to lay your focus and then play with some joy and freedom and reckless abandon in the effort areas of the game. Don't get hung up on your shot," Kellogg advised. "You can control effort, going after loose balls, getting to the glass. Make sure those are high priorities and he'll snap out of it at some point."
Last season, Jones had nine double-figure rebounding games. Last Saturday, he had his first one of this season, grabbing 11 missed shots against UofL. And he also had three steals. And we hear from those around the team that Jones' injured finger is feeling much better in recent days, so perhaps the stage is set for Jones to start trending upward again with his game.
"When you're 18-to-23 years old, you're not the most mature (person). There are things that can distract you. You've got the demands of school and practice and thinking about your future when you're a promising prospect like Terrence," Kellogg said. "This day and age, a guy like him goes through it under the magnifying glass and that creates some additional challenge. But if he stays true to working at getting better and trying to minimize whatever distractions are out there, he'll be fine and that's what I'm anticipating for him."
It's hard to imagine this Kentucky team realizing its potential without a major contribution from Jones. With Jones' size and skill set, he can be a load to handle in the lane when he's at his best. And Kentucky could certainly use another low-post threat.
"You'd like to have as much balance as you can. You want to be to post guys and take advantage of mismatches. The more different ways that you can get points, the better off you are when you face the elite teams, going through a tournament run," said Kellogg. "It doesn't have to necessarily be a big guy. It could be a Darius Miller or a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, depending who you're facing."