It is going to dominate the news and Kentucky Wildcat fans might want to avoid all forms of sporting news today. Freshman Nerlens Noel is done for the year after an MRI revealed an ACL tear in the big man’s left knee. While it is certainly a crushing blow for Noel’s future draft stock, it has a more immediate impact on Kentucky. Considering that the NCAA Selection Committee, who decides who is worthy of an at-large birth, will take in to consideration a team as it presently constructed, the path for a pair of slippers for the Wildcats just became that much tougher.
Without Noel, Kentucky is clearly a much worse team. If we were to be honest about it, with him they weren’t exactly a dominant college hoops team. The Wildcats were filled with flaws even when they had Noel as an anchor on defense, and now without him, opposing teams are going to drive to the basket with much more frequency. And yes, I understand they have another talented shot-blocker who is going to eat up some minutes, but he isn’t Noel.
There is no free-agency in college basketball. There isn’t a guy roaming the streets of Kentucky who has a few years of eligibility left. Kentucky without Noel is on the wrong side of the bubble and the Selection Committee won’t give them a free pass based on merit. The Wildcats have just lost the best shot-blocker in the country and a potential number one draft pick, it is going to hurt their chances to go dancing, even if they play fair down the stretch.
Sadly, Kentucky’s season might be done. An optimist will tell you how they have gotten better all year and how they will bond together to get through Noel’s injury. However, a realist will let you know that, no matter how good they can become, time is running out on this young squad.
It doesn’t matter who you are, take the best player off any team in the country and they will falter as well. Unfortunately for Kentucky, Noel wasn’t just their best player, he was their player. No team in the nation relied on one player as much as Kentucky relied on Noel defensively.
Is it the final nail in the coffin? Probably. Not because Kentucky isn’t still a decent to good team but because they are running out of time to become great. And the rode to great just became that much harder with the loss of Noel.
Joe covers the Catholic Seven for Rant Sports. Follow Joe on Twitter @JosephNardone