Mon Mar 04 01:09am EST
When you lose a national defensive player of the year candidate, it stands to reason your defense might take a step back.
That's exactly what has happened to Kentucky in five games since Nerlens Noel was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
The Wildcats have seen their defensive numbers take a hit almost across the board.
Noel made his biggest impact in two areas: protecting the rim and crashing the glass. In both of these areas, UK has seen a pretty substantial decline.
Meanwhile, the offense has remained relatively unchanged without Noel, with similar numbers in most major offensive categories.
Take a look at where UK has regressed -- and where it hasn't -- in this chart that compares full season, conference season and post-Noel numbers:
Now, for a closer look:
The Cats' interior defense is no longer one of the nation's elite. Opponents have shot 45.9 percent from inside the arc without Noel in the lineup, compared to 41 percent before his injury. Opponents are also better at getting to the free throw line (averaged above six shots more from the stripe without Noel), an indication of a new-found fearlessness attacking the basket.
Following the injury, coach John Calipari said his players would have to step up to make up for his 9.5 rebounds per game. Calipari said his team could do it; through five games, they haven't proven him right. Kentucky has grabbed fewer offensive and defensive rebounds without the 6-foot-10 forward available.
All told, in all the areas Noel was so vital to this team -- anchoring a good defense, hiding their flaws, and controlling the boards as much as one man can -- Kentucky hasn't found a way to replace his production. It's led to UK giving up .1 points per possession more since his injury. It's not a huge difference, but on a team that was average and struggling to be in the NCAA Tournament without him, it counts.