Thursday Morning Roundup: Life After Nerlens, Commonwealth Approval Coming

02/13/2013 11:01 PM

A look back at what you might have missed Wednesday while you were making that homemade card for Nerlens Noel…

What Will Life After Nerlens Look Like?

When word broke Wednesday afternoon that UK freshman Nerlens Noel would be out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, effectively ending his UK career, we all began to wonder what’s next. For Noel, it appears that not much will be different. Sure, he’ll rehab and likely not suit up in a basketball game until October or November, but he’s still expected to be a top-five pick in the NBA Draft and his career should continue as scheduled. For Kentucky though, the team suddenly takes on a new look and it’s one that, on paper, appears to be more on the NCAA bubble than we ever believed.

At the time of his injury, Noel was leading the team in blocks, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage and minutes played. But those stats don’t even really tell the entire story. His mere presence on defense changed the way teams attacked UK and allowed the mistakes of his teammates, which have been abundant, to often go unnoticed.

You think Kyle Wiltjer has struggled to defend in his career? We’ve yet to see him play without Nerlens or Anthony Davis behind him. And if it’s been painful to watch teams go on long runs without providing an offensive punch to stop them, keep in mind that Noel’s defense often sparked the transition baskets that gave UK a spark. This team lost more than just its center in Gainesville. It lost its heart and soul. And that’s not something that you can easily overcome in just a matter of days, though UK will have to do just that since the NCAA Tournament chairman said the Cats’ postseason credentials will be formed in the season’s remaining seven games.

But could the Cats actually be better without Nerlens Noel in the lineup? That’s the question Jeff Goodman posed Wednesday night on Courtside with Seth Davis. Goodman argued that UK was far from formidable with the nation’s top shot-blocker and that perhaps his absence could provide a spark. And I don’t think that’s as far-fetched as it may seem.

The biggest issue with this team so far this season is that they haven’t seemed to play with a sense of urgency. They’ve played hard. I don’t think you can question the effort. I think you can question the purpose though and you can question if they’ve played with the fire that comes with treating each possession as if it’s the most important of the season. You have to wonder if seeing their leader, their peer, their friend see his college career end in the snap of a finger will bring them to the harsh realization that they must play every possession like it’s their last.

That’s the passion that we saw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, DeAndre Liggins, Eric Bledsoe and others play with each and every time they took the floor. It wasn’t a matter of just playing hard. It was about knowing that if it all disappeared on the next possession, you could know you’d done everything you could for your teammates and your coaches. Most great players are born with that or develop it over the course of their career. We’re at the point in the season that it’s fair to ask if these Cats will ever have that type of intensity and even if it comes artificially manufactured in the shadow of Noel’s torn ACL, simply finding that extra gear could still make the Cats a dangerous team.

Even with Nerlens out, this is a roster that’s still the second-most talented group in the SEC and boasts more projected first round picks than any other school in the country. All that has changed is that the road is a little more uphill than it was before, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s over for Kentucky. It’s simply another chance to finally realize that they’re capable of being something much, much more. Because if they don’t, Nerlens Noel won’t be the only one whose season ended sooner than it should have.

Willie Cauley-Stein’s Lottery Push Begins Now

On his radio show Wednesday night, John Calipari talked about how one man’s misery is another man’s opportunity and that’s precisely the situation for Willie Cauley-Stein. The seven-foot freshman mentioned last week that it was hard to sit out and watch Nerlens Noel play so well, saying he was happy for his friend but wanting to be out there taking the same steps with his game. He now has that chance to emerge on the national stage and, for Cauley-Stein, there’s a considerable amount of money involved.

Cauley-Stein’s remarkable rise from a “project” recruit to a projected first rounder could continue with an increased role and more minutes and many scouts believe the freshman center could work himself easily into the NBA Draft Lottery. One of the few consistencies this year has been the effort shown by Cauley-Stein on both ends of the floor and since returning from a knee injury, he’s appeared to be far more comfortable in calling for the ball on the block and trying to make a move. The Cats will need him to continue to be assertive and confident in Noel’s absence and that would not only propel the team, but also probably make his bank account look a whole lot nicer in six months.

Archie At The Point

With Ryan Harrow fresh off of a disappearing act in Gainesville, Calipari tossed around the idea Wednesday night of putting the ball back in Archie Goodwin’s hands and letting him run the point. It may be a little public motivation for Harrow, though last week’s “Willie Cauley-Stein will take Harrow’s minutes” play didn’t exactly seem to help the sophomore point guard, but it also signals yet another shift in how this team will play.

Goodwin, of course, filled in at the point while Harrow was suffering from the flu earlier this year and played some of his best basketball. Since Harrow’s return, Goodwin has moved over to the wing, where he’s had the ball in his hands a little less and where he seems far more prone to reckless penetration. I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by putting the ball into Archie’s hands earlier in the clock, partially because it takes it away from Harrow, but he’ll certainly have to be more responsible with it.

The more I think about it though, I don’t care who brings the ball up the floor as long as the first priority is getting Kyle Wiltjer a touch in the high post or on the block, where he can create a mismatch and initiate an offense where his teammates operate around him.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Reminders

To me, the most striking image from the Nerlens Noel injury Tuesday night was not his leg bent sideways or John Calipari standing over him as he was writhing in pain. It was the image of the freshman center being carried off the floor by his teammates, an ultimate tribute to Calipari’s mantra of “being your brother’s keeper”. It provided one of those moments that we can often sometimes forget, where you again remind yourself that these are

Though it often doesn’t appear to be the case on the court, as they look disoriented on offense or don’t communicate on defense, this is a remarkably close team. If you spend any time with them, it’s apparent how much they truly care for one another and how tight of a bond they’ve formed. Kyle Wiltjer has said they’re even closer than last year’s group.

The 13 players on this team share a bond unlike any other group of students on campus. They face scrutiny like no one else. They have different pressures, different responsibilities, different expectations. And they do it all together. The brotherhood that is formed through living together, traveling together, struggling together and succeeding together is one that probably can’t be adequately explained here. But that picture, as well as the play afterward, told the story. That wasn’t just basketball. That was coming to the aid of a brother in need and it gave us all a glimpse of just how special the bond between these players actually is.

Commonwealth Renovations Will Be Approved Today

Kentucky football fans have long hoped for renovations to Commonwealth Stadium and upgraded football facilities that would allow them to better compete with other SEC schools in recruiting and that dream should officially become a reality Thursday. The Kentucky State Senate will vote Thursday afternoon on the bill that proposes state universities be assume their own debt for construction projects. The bill is expected to meet no resistence and pass with no issues. From there, UK will begin its proposed projects this year, with the Commonwealth portion being completed in July 2015.

Then, a national title.

Hal Mumme Would Be Proud

With the return this season of the Air Raid offense and sirens sounding inside of Commonwealth Stadium, there’s sure to be plenty of talk of the Hal Mumme days for UK football and the former coach came to mind earlier this past week as Mark Stoops started hauling in recruits. What’s somewhat odd though is that it had little to do with the names on the offensive side of the ball. Mumme, whose defenses never ranked better than 84th in the country at UK, actually told us in an interview last fall that while part of the key to succeeding in Lexington is offensive creativity, the big difference in the SEC comes at defensive end and corner.

The defensive-minded Stoops found success with his first recruiting class, but he really score at the two positions that Mumme believes to be critical. With three defensive ends (two of them four-star prospects, the other highly regarded) and four
defensive backs, the Cats got off to a fast start at both positions. The future even got a little brighter this week with the commitment of Denzel Ware, a speed pass rusher rated as high as the #44 player in the country by one scouting service.

Kentucky’s offense will put up numbers, whether it starts in game one or game ten. That much has been proven. But emerging as an elite defensive team is what could finally push the Cats into the upper tier of the Southeastern Conference. Loading up on talented players at defensive end and defensive back has the Cats off to a great start in their quest to complete the equation and it’s a strategy that even an offensive wizard like Hal Mumme would approve of.

Be sure to watch KSTV Thursday as we discuss what’s next for the UK basketball team with Gary Parrish from and on Friday when former Cat Derek Anderson stops by the studio to explain why it was so important for him to meet with Nerlens Noel following his torn ACL.


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