As Kentucky moves forward without star forward Nerlens Noel -- lost for the season with a torn ACL -- the Wildcats must once again reshape their identity mid-process.
Willie Cauley-Stein will have to be a prominent part of that.
The freshman has been a really good rotation player, not only operating as an effective substitute for Noel but also playing alongside him for significant stretches of time.
Now, he'll have to try replacing Noel.
Cauley-Stein has averaged 20 minutes per game this year, a number sure to grow in Noel's absence. Let's assume Cauley-Stein takes a 10 minutes-per-game jump to 30 minutes per game. (Noel averaged 31 minutes per game.) His numbers project out to the following:
11.7 points, 8.25 rebounds, 2.48 blocks and 1.13 steals per game.
Those are pretty good, and pretty comparable to the type of production Noel offered (10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, 2.1 steals). In terms of the numbers, Cauley-Stein is a relatively similar player to Noel, although perhaps a tier lower in terms of how much he brings when on the court. He will, though, have a chance to prove what he can do as the primary center on a team -- a chance that could propel him into the NBA Draft lottery.
The problem for UK, of course, is that it goes from having two players like that to one player. That means everyone else will also see opportunities increase. Jarrod Polson could become an even more integral part of the rotation. Jon Hood, perhaps, could see minutes.
The two other players besides Cauley-Stein who will have the most potential for change, however, will be Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. They form the remainder of UK's frontcourt.
They've already been in a similar situation this year when Cauley-Stein sat for four games (and 35 minutes of a fifth). In that stretch, here's how the two players' roles shifted:
Wiltjer: Played six more minutes, scored 3.5 more points on two more shots, and grabbed 0.7 rebounds more per game more than his season averages.
Poythress: Played 1.3 less minutes and scored 0.4 less pints on one less shot per game than his season averages. Grabbed 0.7 more rebounds per game than his season average.
However, Poythress was in foul trouble in three of those games. With him, the hope is that he has more games like he did against LSU (20 points, 12 rebounds) or LSU (15 points, seven rebounds) when he assumed a larger role.