Nerlens Noel has been on the minds of college basketball fans everywhere since he put on an all-world display at the 2012 Hoophall Classic. A 6'10" center from the Tilton School in New Hampshire, Noel has all the tools to have an Anthony Davis-like impact on whichever school he chooses to attend.
So the question on everyone's mind is just that: where will Noel choose to play next season?
Noel has cut his list of potential landing spots down to three of the most storied programs in college basketball: Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. I believe that Syracuse will ultimately win out over the other two programs for several reasons, which are presented here.
Louisville entered the Big East Tournament as the seventh-best team in the conference.
Noel started his high school career at Everett High School (MA) before transferring to Tilton in 2010. The switch was based mostly in trying to find the most competitive environment to play in as a means to get better.
The Big East (and eventually the ACC) are both extremely competitive conferences that dwarf anything the SEC can throw at him. Being the competitive young man he is, I find it hard to believe that Noel would pass on the opportunity to play against teams like Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and Georgetown on a constant basis.
The best competition the SEC has to offer for Kentucky is itself during daily practices, where the Orange can offer similar practice quality with a much better schedule.
Jim Boehiem's 2-3 zone has made him a Hall of Famer and one of the best coaches in basketball today.
Jim Boeheim has been frustrating opponents with his aggressive 2-3 zone defense for years, and the common denominator has always been a dominant big man in the middle. Hakim Warrick, Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson and Fab Melo have all feasted in the middle of that zone and anchored the Orange's defense.
Nobody on the planet is built better to play the center spot for Boeheim than Noel. His long arms will take away passing lanes and challenge every shot that goes up, while his athleticism coupled with the players alongside him will make it almost impossible to penetrate from the wings.
Next year's team will have some other candidates for that center spot in rising-junior Baye Keita and incoming-freshman DaJuan Coleman, but neither player will affect the game on the defensive end like Noel can.
Michael Carter-Williams (right) played AAU with Noel for BABC and the two remain good friends.
You can never underestimate the personal aspect of any decision made by an 18-year-old kid. The Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) is one of the best AAU programs in the country, and its players typically play year-round and develop very close relationships with their teammates.
Noel and Syracuse freshman Michael Carter-Williams played together for BABC and have remained very close friends since Carter-Williams went to Syracuse. You can only imagine how many conversations he has had with Noel about potentially playing together, and the prospect of familarity can weigh heavy on a young person's mind.
Teams composed of players who like each other always play better, and it is no secret that Carter-Williams and Noel would be just as formidable as a tandem for the Orange as they were for BABC.
Anthony Davis' shadow will loom large in Lexington next season.
We have seen how much pressure comparing players to other great players can put on a young man. How many "Next Michael Jordan" or "Next Shaquille O'Neal" titles have actually panned out?
Noel and Anthony Davis have many similar characteristics, particularly on the defensive end. If Noel goes to Kentucky, he will have to live in the constant shadow of Davis and the incredible season he just turned in.
Noel is an extremely competitive person and would love to prove to everyone that he is better than the reigning Player of the Year, but the prospect of creating his own legacy at Syracuse would be just as appealing. At Syracuse the only comparisons he would face would be to Fab Melo, and Noel has a skill set that would allow him to blow every comparison away.
Noel will make his decision on April 11 when the Spring signing period begins, and his decision will likely swing the 2013 season in favor of which ever program he decides to play for. I still believe the Orange will land Noel and his unlimited ceiling, but the lure of Kentucky might prove to be just a bit too much.
No matter where he goes, let's just hope the hair goes with him.