Kentucky vs. Louisville: Can Nerlens Noel Rise to Challenge vs. Gorgui Dieng?

Matt Overing@@MOveringContributor IIIDecember 28, 2012

Dec 8, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) during a time out in the game against the Portland Pilots in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Portland 74-46. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports Images

Nerlens Noel has expectations. He's been tested early and often this season and, for the most part, has met expectations.

When Kentucky plays Louisville, he'll face another test; Gorgui Dieng.

Per the Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino confirmed that Dieng would be playing  against Kentucky on Dec. 29. He missed seven games after injuring his left wrist against Missouri on Nov. 23. 

Dieng, a 6'11" junior, is known for his defensive prowess and sheer dominance in the lane. Last year, he averaged 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. 

He's adequate offensively, but he doesn't need to score in the Louisville offense. Leave that to Russ Smith.

Instead, Dieng's job is to alter shots on the other end of the floor. His blocks are down from last year (3.2 to 2.0), but his fouls are down as well (3.3 to 1.8). 

Like Dieng, Noel's talents reside on the defensive side of the ball. He's averaging 10.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game this year. 

Both players will struggle offensively, that much is certain. So, what can we expect from Noel against a more experienced center?

Kentucky fans should not expect Noel to dominate the Cardinals like Anthony Davis did last season (Davis scored 36 points, grabbed 24 rebounds and blocked 11 shots in two games against Louisville last year).

In a small sample size of games from 2012-13, Noel has been erratic when playing against high-profile big men. 

Against Maryland and Alex Len, Noel scored just four points on 2-of-6 shooting. He added nine rebounds, three blocks, two steals and three fouls in an underwhelming debut.

Noel had a strong performance against Duke and Mason Plumlee, though. He scored 16 points (5-of-11 shooting), grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and added four steals. 

Finally, Baylor's Isaiah Austin held Noel to eight points (3-of-14 shooting), but he added 16 rebounds and six steals.

Dieng may be the best defender that Noel has faced this year, which means offensive contributions will be minimal.

But, as Kentucky head coach John Calipari so eloquently told Noel, "You’re an energy guy, you’re not a skill guy" (via Vaught's Views). 

It is Noel's energy that will have the biggest impact on his matchup against Dieng. He'll need to force Dieng into tough shots, alter the shots of Louisville guards and rebound.

Will Noel's rise to the occasion? Will his energy level be enough to match up with Dieng?

More importantly, will it be enough to fuel a Kentucky victory?

We find out on Dec. 29.

All stats via ESPN.com.


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