Nerlens Noel had a game yesterday very similar to his previous performances in SEC play: 10 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks and 1 steal. He combines for more steals and blocks than any other person in the NCAA. To put it plainly, Nerlens is the best defensive big man in the country (stick to volleyball Jeff Withey). He has been a force on the inside that can only be compared to the almighty Anthony Davis. That all sounds great, but would you believe me if I told you the players Nerlens’ has primarily guarded in the past 3 games, have combined for 49 points (16.3 per game)? It doesn’t make much sense that the nation’s best defensive big man statistically, is giving up all of these points.
How is this happening?
As the enforcer of the paint, it is Nerlens’ responsibility to step up when his teammates get beat off the dribble. Most times it leads to a nasty shot block; other times it gives the opponent an easy scoring opportunity. If the shot isn’t made, the man Nerlens is defending is usually sitting on the opposite side of the rim, waiting for an easy tip-in. Nick Jacobs of Alabama is a scrub to put it lightly, yet he got 14 points by scrapping when Nerlens had to step up.
When you lose a 7-footer, it greatly affects the style of how your team plays. Even though Willie Cauley-Stein’s absence has seemed to have a minor affect on the team’s performance, there is an obvious lack of defensive ‘help’ in the interior. Yesterday Mike Pratt pointed out that teams have noticed this and are starting to take advantage of the situation. Now whenever Nerlens steps up, the man he is guarding flies to the rim looking for either a lob or quick put back.
The good news is that Cauley-Stein should be back in uniform sooner rather than later. The Ole Miss game on the road would be an opportune moment to have a full, healthy roster. The best way to fix it is for Nerlens’ teammates to step and ‘get movin’. It may have taken 38 minutes, but they finally proved that they can rotate to make the easy steal/rebound. With 1:57 left LSU’s Charles Carmouche penetrated the right side of the lane, drawing Nerlens away from his man in the post. Carmouche looked to dump it off, but Alex Poythress stepped in front of the pass and made the easy steal, giving the Cats the ball with a 6-point lead and time dwindling. The steal proved to me that they can learn to adjust on the fly. Their ability to consistently rotate is still in question, but now they have no excuses.