Kentucky Basketball: Grading Each Wildcat Since Nerlens Noel's Injury
For the first time since Nerlens Noel went down with an ACL tear, it looks as though the Kentucky Wildcats are having fun playing basketball.
Two straight home wins have Kentucky fans holding on to hope of another NCAA tournament bid, and Kentucky has taken two strong steps in a positive direction.
But two road games loom large in the first week of March. Kentucky travels to Arkansas on March 2 and Georgia on March 7.
To keep their dancing hopes alive, Kentucky will need to win at least one (probably two) of the road games.
Here, we'll take a look at how each player has played since Noel went down. We'll look at their statistics and what more they can do in the last four games of the year.
One thing to note: Grades are relative. A higher grade does not mean better performance. Grades are based on player expectations and performance in the last three games.
All statistics via ESPN.com.
Twany Beckham, Tod Lanter, Brian Long and Sam Malone
These four players have combined for one minute played in the three games after Nerlens Noel's injury.
Statistics: 30.0 MPG, 9.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.0 BPG
What more could you expect from Willie Cauley-Stein?
Aside from the disaster of a game against Tennessee, Cauley-Stein has been everything one might expect from the 7'0" center.
Free throws will always be an area of improvement for WCS. He's 5-of-14 in the last two games.
Against Missouri, Cauley-Stein held his own against the most experienced frontcourt he's played against.
Statistics: 34.0 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG
Archie Goodwin is fun to watch.
He is also, on occasion, infuriating to watch.
Against Tennessee, he was the latter. Against Vanderbilt, he was the former. And, against Missouri, he was both. He had an awful first half (zero points) but scored 18 points in the second half and overtime.
Goodwin is at his best when he slows down and lets the offense develop.
Statistics: 30.7 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.3 APG
Scratch the Tennessee game, and Ryan Harrow would have the statistics of a star guard.
In the last two games, Harrow has played 74 minutes (out of 85 total), scored 28 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and has 10 assists.
He appears more comfortable. His defense was exposed against Phil Pressey, but that should be a credit to Pressey's playmaking ability, not Harrow's defense.
Kentucky needs more consistency from Harrow on the road. The Wildcats have two road games coming up, and Harrow will be a huge part in the success (or failure) of the team.
Statistics: 6.0 MPG, 1.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG
Jon Hood saw 15 minutes against Tennessee, his most since Jan.15, 2011. He scored four points on 2-of-5 shooting from the floor.
It has been a quiet year for Hood, but his effort has always made him a quality Wildcat.
Statistics: 40.7 MPG, 15.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.3 RPG
You read correctly: Julius Mays is averaging over 40 minutes per game in the last three games.
In those three games, Mays has been on the bench for three minutes. In those 122 minutes on the court, Mays has four turnovers.
One noticeable difference in the Kentucky offense is the amount of screening done for Mays. He's moving more without the ball, and his two-man game with Kyle Wiltjer is tough to stop.
Another enormous advantage of having Mays in the lineup is that he is solid from the foul line. John Calipari teams struggle from the foul stripe, but Mays does not.
Statistics: 15.7 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG
Against Tennessee, Jarrod Polson looked like he wanted to be on the court. He was one of the few Wildcats that played that way.
Since that game, though, Polson's minutes and points have declined. He, like Julius Mays, doesn't turn the ball over and is a known quantity on offense.
But he doesn't have the leadership skills that Mays offers, nor does he have the outside shooting skill that Mays has shown.
After the Tennessee game, I was ready for Polson to step into a starting role. But Harrow has reclaimed his spot, at least for now.
Statistics: 29.7 MPG, 10.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG
Alex Poythress showed up in a huge way against Missouri.
He dominated the Missouri big men, scoring 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
Compare that to the previous two games, where Poythress scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds...total.
Poythress' play defines the Wildcats. When he plays like a lottery pick, Kentucky looks like a Top-25 team. When he fades, Kentucky looks like a bubble team.
Statistics: 22.0 MPG, 9.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 BPG
Despite having less-than-stellar numbers, Kyle Wilter has played well in the last three games.
His minutes have been lacking, presumably because of poor defense (and rebounding), but his offensive numbers are decent.
If Wiltjer had more of a presence on the glass, he'd likely have more minutes on the court. When he isn't successfully spacing the floor, he's not doing much for the team.