Kentucky is now 2-1 without Nerlens Noel, and although the Cats secured a near-required overtime win over visiting Missouri on Saturday, the numbers suggest that UK has missed its freshman center on the defensive end.
The Cats have slipped to 62nd in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive rankings. It’s not hard to see the reason. UK’s past five opponents have all averaged more than a point per possession. Tennessee averaged 1.360. Vanderbilt was at 1.158. Even Missouri averaged 1.091.
Consider that with Noel swatting away shots, Kentucky held seven of its 11 conference opponents under the magic 1.0 mark. UK went 6-1 in those games. The Cats were 2-2 in the other four.
With Noel playing, UK held six consecutive opponents under 40 percent shooting from the floor. The past five foes have all topped 40 percent. Florida nearly shot 50 percent, at 49.1. Tennessee shot 58 percent, the highest percentage against a John Calipari team at UK.
It should be noted that, after being outrebounded 27-18 in the first half by Missouri, Kentucky battered the Tigers 23-12 on the glass the rest of the way. That’s an encouraging sign.