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No. 25 Kentucky loses by 30 to Tennessee in first game without Nerlens Noel

Feb 16, 2013, 4:01 PM EDT

Kentucky Tennessee AP

There was no glossing over the fact that Kentucky was going to have difficulties adjusting to the lack of star freshman Nerlens Noel in the middle of its defense. That being said, Saturday was ugly for the Wildcats, even with expectations being as they were.

Kentucky led for a total of 23 seconds against Tennesse at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, shooting just 36 percent in an 88-58 loss Saturday afternoon.

The absence of Noel is where the problems began for coach John Calipari’s team, but certainly not where they ended. Let’s begin with the obvious.

Without Noel in the middle, Kentucky looked like an NIT bubble team (at best) Saturday. The Wildcats were outrebounded by 13 and allowed Tennessee, a team that came into the game shooting 43 percent from the field on the year, to shoot 58 percent on the afternoon.

Kentucky defenders continued to work the Tennessee offense to the rim. The problem was, no Noel guarding the basket meant easy points.Tennessee took just twelve shots from outside the paint on Saturday and, because of that, shot 20-of-38 on the interior.

That forced Kentucky to collapse even further, which opened up the perimeter. The Volunteers hit nine of their twelve shots from outside the lane, including 5-of-5 shooting from three. Tennessee came into Saturday averaging just 63.7 points per game.

But Noel’s absence defensively doesn’t necessarily explain the offensive woes, too.

Point guard questions continue to linger in Lexington, especially after Ryan Harrow failed to score and fouled out in just 18 minutes on the floor. That came after Calipari started Jarrod Polson in his place. Polson finished with 11 points but no assists. And the problems move outward from there.

Polson was unable to guard Tennessee’s Trae Golden, who tallied 24 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and 11-of-12 from the free throw stripe. Moving forward, how much of the defensive liability can be tolerated, especially considering the compromised interior?

With the lack of control on the perimeter, Willie Cauley-Stein fouled out after 23 minutes.

Alex Poythress was replaced in the starting lineup by Kyle Wiltjer, but that didn’t help to (excuse the ‘coach speak’) light a fire under him or any other applicable cliche. He, too, fouled out after posting four points. His lack of development is in part due to the lack of consistency at the point guard spot, but some of it could come down to effort especially considering his immense physical gifts and the flashes of dominance we have seen throughout the season.

There are a lot of pieces to this Kentucky puzzle. Taking Nerlens Noel out means it cannot be complete, but it is up to Harrow, Poythress, Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin, and others to prove how far this Wildcats team can go.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

  1. cranespy - Feb 16, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    Tough to make it when your star goes down, you have no veteran leadership and Cal is your coach. A recruiter unrivaled a coach he is not.

  2. Norbrook - Feb 16, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    I remember at the start of the season how everyone was talking about Kentucky’s freshmen, and how their starting lineup was a group of “one and done’s.” While that may be true of Noels, and probably is, the others shouldn’t be making plans on leaving next year. It’s apparent that they’re in no way ready for the NBA.

  3. imforbigblue - Feb 16, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    I love how uk has a down year and everybody blames Cal. UNC sucks just as bad this year but I don’t see all the haters saying Roy is a bad coach. No what happened is Alex and Goodwin are over rated and didn’t live up to the hype and RH sucked as a PG at NCST and guess what he still sucks at UK

  4. cranespy - Feb 17, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    Roy has proven time and again that he can rebuild. Cal has not done that. If this years edition doesn’t pan out. Blow it up and bring in next years crop. Deny it all you want…..UK is no longer a college basketball powerhouse in the sane vein as Duke, Kansas, UNC,Florida, Mich State and a resurrected Indiana. If Cal stays around for any length of time. Gonzaga and Butler will become PROGRAMS of note. UKs legacy is being blown up by Cal and his BLUEprint. The clock is ticking BBN, this experiment will NOT end well… hope for Cat fans is that Billy the Kid rides in and restores the roar in Lexington once Cal strolls back to the NBA.

  5. themagicfanguy - Feb 17, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    @cranespy So… The reigning college basketball champions aren’t a powerhouse? Thanks for sharing. Now I don’t have to try and make you look stupid because you already did that for me.

  6. cranespy - Feb 17, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Seriously……a powerhouse? Even with NN they were a good team…..not great….just good. Last years team..totally different. They had the swagger but they backed it up by playing as a team…..they are the only crop that Cal has assembled that lived UP to expectations. My only points are 1 Cal is the VERY BEST recruiter out there….2 He is only average as a coach ( check out his all time record vs Bob Huggins)…..3 BBN will soon tire of the revolving door of Blue Chippers who are only there because they are barred from the NBA for one year. When it works as it did last year it is a thing of beauty……when it doesn’t its ugly…..Cal’s not the coach who can help them improve as a team for a dominating run a year or two down the road…’s NOW or else….I am NOT a UK hater I am merely saying this approach is high risk/high reward and I believe BBN will soon tire of it unless he can win another soon.

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