The Kentucky Wildcats were dealt a major blow Wednesday, as it was revealed that star freshman Nerlens Noel will miss the rest of the season due to a torn ACL in his knee.
Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker reported the devastating news:
UK announced Nerlens Noel tore his ACL last night. Out for the season.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) February 13, 2013
Prognosis for Nerlens Noel return is 6-8 months— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) February 13, 2013
Kentucky announces Nerlens Noel suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Surgery in two to three weeks.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) February 13, 2013
After receiving the news, the Kentucky star took to Twitter to thank everyone for their support and let fans know that the setback won't keep him down for long.
Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback!I love you all and can't thank y'all enough for the prayers.— Nerlens Noel (@NerlensNoel3) February 13, 2013
Noel suffered the injury on Tuesday night against Florida when he attempted to stop a breakaway dunk by Mike Rosario, and it was immediately clear that something was horribly wrong. The towering freshman landed awkwardly, fell to the ground and began screaming in pain.
He had to be helped off the floor.
Although Florida already had the game in control at the time of the injury, Noel's absence was immediately felt for the Wildcats (via Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde):
Since Noel went down, Florida has scored four baskets at or near the rim. No deterrent.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) February 13, 2013
Thus the big man's true, likely irreplaceable, value.
Noel is far from a polished product on the offensive end, but he is easily one of most intimidating interior defenders in the country.
Not only is he averaging 4.4 blocks per contest (most in the nation), but he alters several more with his presence and also tallies 2.1 steals per game, which is 45th-most in America.
To be in the top 50 in the land in both blocks and steals is truly an amazing feat, and he was a major reason why Kentucky had begun to turn the corner as of late.
In a key win over Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss, Noel blocked a staggering 12 shots:
With him gone for the season, however, the 'Cats are in serious trouble.
A lot of the discussion will turn towards Noel's draft stock, but according to Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com, the injury won't impact his standing among NBA teams as much as you'd think.
Have communicated with a couple NBA guys regarding Nerlens Noel. They feel he'll still be taken anywhere from No. 1 to fifth in June Draft.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) February 13, 2013
Who is most important in Noel's absence?
Fellow true freshman Willie Cauley-Stein is a big presence in the middle, averaging 1.7 swats per game, but he has nowhere near the instincts or explosiveness that Noel showcased on a nightly basis.
Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer will also likely see an uptick in minutes, but Poythress' confidence has seemingly disappeared over the past few weeks and Wiltjer is a stretch-4 who struggles defensively.
Kentucky is 19th in America in points per possession allowed and 84th in rebound percentage, but the loss of what many thought was the future No. 1 draft pick will seriously hinder each of those aspects of the team's game.
Making the field of 68 just got a lot tougher for John Calipari and Co.