Noel’s injury paints darker picture on season
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation awoke Wednesday morning with a question that had nothing to do with RPI or NCAA tournament seeding: Will Nerlens Noel play another game in a Wildcats uniform?
The images of Noel, the projected top pick in June’s NBA draft, laying on the court in Gainesville, Fla., clutching his left knee and screaming, only to be carried off by teammates, are now seared in everyone’s minds. Pictures of the twisted knee are enough to make all college basketball fans queasy.
And the entire college basketball world waits on word of the extent of the injury to Noel, the nation’s best shot blocker whose offensive was gradually improving late in his freshman season.
The Wildcats (17-7) as a team were gradually improving as well. Though the primary concern is the health of Noel and how it affects his future, Kentucky’s NCAA tournament hopes would take a serious hit without Noel in the lineup the rest of the season.
It had taken the defending national champions almost four months to establish themselves as a borderline single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament. If Noel does not return this season, the Wildcats must re-establish themselves as an NCAA tournament team in less then five weeks.
The NCAA tournament selection committee always assesses a team in the sense of what team will be on the court in March. And one with Noel would look a lot different than a Wildcats team without him.
As it is, Kentucky had a middling RPI (49) before Tuesday night’s loss at SEC-leading Florida. Its strength of schedule (68) was not going to impress any committee members either. Its lone top-50 victory did come on the road Jan. 29 but it was against fading Mississippi.
The problem with the SEC is that few opportunities exist to play quality teams. And if you cannot challenge Florida, a legitimate national title contender, then few other victories in the league will get anyone’s attention.
Looming on the immediate horizon for the Wildcats is a road date at Tennessee on Saturday, which would be particularly challenging without Noel in the lineup. After that, only home games … [For more on Nerlens Noel's injury paints darker picture on Kentucky's season, click here.]