The nation’s top shot blocker’s basketball future is now in question.
In the second half of the game with 8:03 remaining, Noel went to block a shot against Florida’s Mike Rosario. He first awkwardly landed on his left knee and then slammed it into the basket support. Noel grabbed his injured knee right away from the pain and screamed from it. The stadium went silent.
Trainers went to his side and Kentucky coach John Calipari approached the young player before his teammates carried him off the court. He said via ESPN of Noel, “He was yelling and screaming, so that’s why I stayed [with him on the floor]. But it’s unfortunate and I just hope and pray that he’s OK, but we’re going to see.”
Noel left Florida’s O’Connell Center in a wheelchair. He went to the local Shands Hospital for tests but according to a Kentucky spokesperson, he returned with the team to Lexington. The extent of Noel’s injury isn’t known yet but it has been speculated as a dislocated knee cap. On Wednesday morning, the school did not have an update yet on it.
For Noel, he was on the path for one and done in the college ranks before entering the NBA draft this year as the No. 1 pick.
For the Wildcats, without Noel their already shaky season could go further south.
At 17-7, 8-3, the Wildcats now sit behind Florida (20-3, 10-1) by two games in SEC conference. Besides his nation-leading blocked shots (4.5 per game), Noel was also averaging 10.6 points per game and sat in the second spot in the conference for rebounding at 9.6 per game.
Currently, the Wildcats have one RPI Top 50 win against Mississippi. They have had a lot of key losses and at this point in time some bracketologists have Kentucky going to the Big Dance with either a No. 9 or No. 10 seed–with Noel as a member of the lineup.
And now without Noel, look for more losses. On March 9, Kentucky will again play Florida on its home court and before then, there’s a tough game on Feb. 23 vs. Missouri. In the interim period, Kentucky’s opponents don’t fall in the RPI Top 50, but we all know wins are never guaranteed–especially this season.
The Wildcats will get a taste of a Noel-less team on Saturday when it plays Tennessee (12-10, 4-6) in Knoxville. Even with their record, the Vols could provide some tough competition without Kentucky’s leader.