When Nerlens Noel went down for the season we all knew things were going to be bad. You don’t lose the future number one pick & potential defensive player of the year and expect improvement. However, nobody predicted the Cats to head to Knoxville and leave with a 30 embarrassment while looking like a team playing without desire or a will to compete. After a loss like that the only thing a team could ask for is to host a SEC cellar dweller with a 4-8 conference record to try turn things around. Well the Cats get just that this Wednesday when Vanderbilt bring their :ahem: talents into Rupp Arena. But without Nerlens Noel nothing is going to be easy and the Vandy game should not be taken lightly. Why? For that we need to hop in the wayback machine and travel to January 10th for the Cats SEC opener.
The Cats were in Nashville to take on the ‘dores and everything was going according to plan. UK had built a commanding lead and looked to be cruising to a big win but at the 16:48 mark of the second half the game changed. The Cats had a 42- 27 lead when Nerlens Noel was whistled for foul number three and sent to the bench. From that point we saw basically the same things we saw go down yesterday in Knoxville, offensive ineptitude and guys getting to the rim for easy buckets. The next time Nerlens had the ball in his hands the game was tied at 47-47. That’s a run of 20-5 folks, against Vandy.
A similar run was made by the Rebels when we were on the road in Oxford. There we lead 73-56 when Nerlens picked up his fourth foul. In just over four minutes with Noel on the bench Ole Miss had made a 13-0 run and closed the game to just a 4 point margin for the Cats at 73-69. To close out that game Nerlens picked up 5 blocks to secure the win. Against Vandy a big shot by the big man with 18 seconds left gave the Cats a five point lead and the win.
Something has got to give with this team. They can’t play like they have Nerlens in the middle when Nerlens is not in the middle. That’s what lead to the big runs against Vandy and Ole Miss. Wednesday night Vandy should offer up a great chance for the Cats to fix the major issues with the team. The Cats will be more talented in every position but if they don’t play with heart and a will to win then they could get buried by a 20-5 run. As wee saw yesterday those big deficits can be pretty insurmountable. So what do you think? Can the Cats learn to play without Nerlens? Or are we in for a brutally long close to the season?