A perplexing Kentucky season became considerably more complex on February 12, when freshman center Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Kentucky was just starting to show signs of achieving the preseason promise that caused the Wildcats to be ranked No. 3 in the preseason Associated Press poll when Noel went down. Though certainly not a top-10 team at that time, the Wildcats seemed to be edging their way toward respectability, doing enough to put themselves in position to land an NCAA tournament berth.
But the loss of Noel changed everything. Not only does Kentucky need to find a way to make up for the loss of the improving 6'11" Noel, but the NCAA tournament selection committee's assessment of the Wildcats started virtually anew.
As of February 20, Kentucky probably would not make the 68-team NCAA tournament field as an at-large team, which puts intense pressure on just a handful of remaining games for Kentucky to change its status in the committee's eyes.
Since the NCAA tournament field was expanded from 48 to 64 teams in 1985, only four teams have failed to make the tournament field the year after it won it all, and one of those was because the school was on probation.
Wildcat fans would not be pleased if Kentucky became the fifth. So they, like many others, are contemplating what it will take for Kentucky to make the field in terms of the remaining schedule and the Wildcats' ability to adjust and improve.