Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
There is no Nerlens Noel clone walking around Lexington, but freshman seven-footer Willie Cauley-Stein represents coach John Calipari's best chance to replace Noel's production and reconstitute his role in the defense without undertaking a midseason strategy shift.
Like Noel, Cauley-Stein is an athletic big with tremendous shot-blocking talent and a developing offensive game. On that last count he might be a bit further along than Noel, although his ceiling is lower and his defensive presence considerably less menacing.
Because of Noel's stellar play and his own lingering knee troubles, Cauley-Stein has logged 30 minutes in a game only one time this season (January 10 at Vanderbilt).
For Kentucky to survive without Noel, that needs to change. Kentucky's perimeter defense has been suspect all year, and Calipari leans on his back line for cover. Cauley-Stein won't cover as much ground as Noel or impact as many shots, but he can deter opponents from attacking Kentucky off the dribble. Cauley-Stein's 8.0 percent block percentage ranks 72nd nationally (per KenPom.com), proof that he can protect the rim better than most.
After Cauley-Stein, there isn't another pure post defender on Kentucky's roster.