The NCAA Tournament hopes for the Kentucky Wildcats took a huge hit last night in the team's 69-52 loss to the Florida Gators. Not only did the Wildcats lose the game but they also lost their leading freshman Nerlens Noel for the season with a torn ACL.
Noel went down midway through the second half with a knee injury and today an MRI revealed the ACL injury.
Noel, who leads the nation in blocks at 4.4 per game, suffered the injury after blocking a fast break layup by Florida guard Mike Rosario with about eight minutes remaining in the second half. Noel landed awkwardly and slammed his left knee into the basket support before crumbling to the floor. Noel grabbed the knee and screamed in pain before trainers rushed to his side. He was eventually carried off the court by several of his teammates.
The loss on Noel puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the rest of the young Kentucky team to step up in order to salvage their fading NCAA Tournament hopes.
Freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, who recently returned from a minor knee injury, will be depended on to anchor the Kentucky defense in Noel’s absence. The 7’0” center is a talented player and has shown glimpses of his potential throughout the season.
However, he has not been the same force on the defensive end that Noel has been to this point in the season. Cauley-Stein has averaged 1.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game, significantly less that Noel’s 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals per game.
Questions still remain concerning Noel’s future as a Kentucky Wildcat.
ESPN NBA Draft expert Chad Ford had Noel projected as a Top 5 pick in the upcoming 2013 NBA Draft. Noel is scheduled to have surgery on his knee within the next two to three weeks, but at this point the recovery period for his injury is unknown. Once that recovery period has been determined, Noel will have a decision to make concerning his potential entrance into the NBA draft.
NBA GMs will surely be interested to see the status of Noel’s injury post-surgery before making a determination on his draft potential.
There have been a rash of similar injuries in the sports world with the recent year. Perhaps, the most famous case study has been Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson suffered an ACL and MCL tear on December 24, 2011, but returned eight months later in Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season. Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards.
In the basketball world, Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose suffered a torn ACL in Game 1 of the Bulls’ 2012 first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Rose had surgery on his knee in May 2012 and was diagnosed with an estimated recovery period of 8-12 months.
Rose just returned to full contact practice in January 2013 but recently stated that he would not return to the Bulls’ lineup until he was “110 percent”. Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo also tore his ACL on January 27 in a game versus the Atlanta Hawks. He recently underwent successful surgery and is expected to make a “full and speedy” recovery.