SEC M5: 02.14.13 EditionPosted by DPerry on February 14th, 2013
- Shot-blocking extraordinaire Nerlens Noel won’t be patrolling the paint for Kentucky again this season. On Wednesday, an MRI revealed a torn ACL, confirming what everyone assumed after seeing the freshman center crumble to the ground and scream in pain after a great hustle play Tuesday night in Gainesville. “I’ve been coaching for 22 years and this is the first injury we’ve had of this kind during the season, which makes it even more devastating,” head coach John Calipari said. Despite the impending long rehabilitation process, Noel remains in good spirits, calling the injury “a minor setback for a MAJOR comeback” from his Twitter account.
- Questions about how Noel’s injury would affect his draft stock popped up even before the MRI. Noel was a sure-fire top five NBA Draft pick (and one of the few contenders to go first overall) before this setback, and SI‘s Michael Rosenberg believes that’s still the case. “Guys who are going to be top five picks tend to leave, and Noel will still go that high,” Rosenberg writes. “The only difference is that he might need crutches to walk over and shake David Stern’s hand.” I remain bullish on his draft stock. The injury brings up comparisons to Greg Oden, but it shouldn’t. Noel’s slight lower frame certainly didn’t do him any favors, but one awkward landing into the basket support shouldn’t indicate that he’s in for the same type of chronic knee problems as Oden. He still projects as the top defensive big man in the draft, and if a team like Cleveland or Orlando in need of a rim protector wins the lottery, don’t be surprised to see Noel follow in Anthony Davis’ footsteps as the top overall pick.
- So where does Kentucky go from here? (Insert super original NIT joke). “It’s not a question of, how do we replace Nerlens?” Jay Bilas said Wednesday. “It’s, how do we adapt to what we have?” The Wildcats’ remaining strengths aren’t immediately clear. Lost in the Noel commotion is the fact that the Wildcats didn’t belong on the floor with Florida. Outside of a bright opening few minutes, Kentucky’s ball-handlers looked incapable of dealing with the Gators’ full-court pressure. Even when they broke through, the UK offense lacked composure and creativity. Noel was never the focal point when Kentucky had the ball, but without their dominant defensive presence, the Wildcats need to make up some of that lost value on the offensive end. Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t too dissimilar to Noel in his playing style and should see his minutes increase drastically.
- Casey Prather has been little more than an energy guy during his time in Gainesville, but with his improved play in the absence of Will Yeguete, he’s showing that he can be much more valuable. Against Kentucky, the junior tallied 12 points, three boards, two blocks, and three charges drawn (of course, few players make drawing charges as easy as Archie Goodwin does). “I would just say I was trying to give the team a big boost, a big energy boost, and so I was just glad to help the team out any way I could,” says Prather, spoken like a true energy guy. The 6’6″ swingman can guard multiple positions, affording Florida flexibility in its defensive assignments, and rebounds well for his size. Yeguete could return for the postseason, but he may find minutes tough to come by if Prather continues to excel.
- Missouri finally earned its first road win of the season, and did so in emphatic fashion. Keion Bell tied a career-high with 24 points to lead the Tigers to a 78-36 win over Mississippi State. “I think Keion in the last four, five ball games has been outstanding,” coach Frank Haith said in a radio interview after the game. “We love to see him coming along because it gives him a chance to spell (Pressey) more.” Phil Pressey, who has struggled to score efficiently this season, was back in true point guard mode, taking only one shot (which he made) and adding eight assists. The junior would be wise to commit to this style. He’s averaging 14.5 shots per game in losses, while only putting up 10 per game in Missouri’s 18 wins.