An awkward landing after an ugly possession, a knee that buckled when an freak of an athlete got his left foot jammed on the basket support while running at full-speed, and Kentucky has gone from a potentially dangerous lower seed to a team that seems destined for the NIT.
That’s how much Nerlens Noel means to the Wildcats.
That fact has nothing to do with why this injury, if it is as serious as it looks, is so devastating. I don’t care if you are a Louisville fan, there isn’t anyone in the world that enjoys seeing a kid whose athleticism is worth millions upon millions of dollars have that flash in front of his eyes because of one bad landing.
But it is relevant. Kentucky is the reigning national champion. They are a team that still have one of the best head coaches in the game and plenty of talent on the roster. And it’s hard to imagine them doing much of anything the rest of this season.
Noel is the anchor for this team. He’s arguably the most dominant defensive presence in the country. He’s the one guy that can be counted on to provide — points, rebounds, defense, toughness, effort — consistently for this team. Everyone else is a question mark. Ryan Harrow was a deer in headlights tonight, unable to handle Florida’s defensive pressure. Archie Goodwin is supremely talented, but is still learning how to play. Alex Poythress has zero confidence. Willie Cauley-Stein plays hard and has unreal physical tools, but he’s an athlete that plays basketball right now. Not vice versa.
We don’t know how long Noel will be out, but the bottom-line is that without Noel in the lineup, Kentucky is not a tournament team.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.