[Moderated by Matt Jones]
In a performance that ESPN commentator Dick Vitale dubbed “Turnover City,” Kentucky fans woke up from what they thought was a bad dream only to find themselves in a living nightmare. The only thing that could have turned tonight’s debacle in Gainesville from embarrassing to devastating came with 8:03 remaining in the second half:
Nerlens Noel was pursuing Florida guard Mike Rosario at full speed during a fast break layup attempt that ended in Noel cleanly blocking Rosario’s shot only to land awkwardly upon his left knee before slamming it into the basket support. Noel audibly cried out in pain and clutched his left knee while writhing on the floor. Trainers were followed by Coach Calipari to the side of the nation’s leading shot-blocker until the 6’10″ 228-lb. forward was carried off the floor by his teammates, which prompted senior guard Julius Mays to explain, “We’re all brothers. Win, lose, or draw, we got each other’s back.”
The severity of Noel’s injury is unknown and his status for the remainder of the season will remain unclear for the rest of the night. However, fans will not soon forget the agony in the young man’s voice as he bellowed out in pain for the whole country to hear. That being said, it has been confirmed that Noel underwent several tests at a local Gainesville hospital and will travel back home to Lexington tonight with the rest of the team.
Where does Big Blue Nation go from here? Noel not only leads the nation in blocked shots with 4.5 a game, but is Kentucky’s leading rebounder with 9.6 per contest. The ‘Cats’ big man serves as the anchor not just on defense, but for all energy levels throughout the game. If Nerlens is to miss some time on the court, be it briefly or not, every player in a blue uniform must step up in his absence. Willie Cauley-Stein will most likely be coerced into the starting lineup sooner than expected and forced to adjust to the hole left by Noel. Wiltjer and Poythress will be more heavily featured within the Wildcats’ frontcourt, where neither player is most aptly suited to succeed.
With Noel gone, so is the majority of Kentucky’s shot blocking. Teams will worry less about Nerlens clogging up the lane and look more frequently for quick slashes and drives to the basket. The ‘Cats then lose their subsequent ability to spread the floor, which will result in a cluttered paint and a wide window for teams with exceptional long-range shooting capability. The remainder of the conference schedule will prove a tough test for the Wildcats, starting with a road trip to Knoxville to face the Volunteers for a second time on Saturday and ending with a rematch with Florida in Lexington on March 9, highlighted in between by a College GameDay home matchup with Missouri on February 23.
Join me in keeping Nerlens Noel in your thoughts as he awaits a diagnosis for the remainder of what is expected to be his lone season at the University of Kentucky.
Follow me on Twitter @ConnorLinkKSR
[powered by WordPress.]
32 queries. 0.486 seconds