What does it mean for Kentucky if Noel is out for a long time?

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[youtube=http://youtu.be/jRpZycE6EQI]

That’s all it took.

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.

Not even close.

(Video via @jquittner)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.