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What Kentucky Lost In Nerlens: By The Numbers

In news that broke yesterday, Nerlens Noel will be forced to sit out the remainder of 2013 due to an ACL tear suffered in Tuesday night’s game against Florida. While season ending injuries are always depressing, it’s even more deflating knowing it happened to a kid so unanimously loved in the community. It certainly doesn’t feel right discussing something as trivial as a game when someone’s career has been jeopardized, but unfortunately, the season will continue without the stellar big man.  They say never follow a legend because you’ll never live up to the expectations, but that’s exactly what Willie Cauley-Stein will have to attempt in the coming weeks.  It certainly won’t be easy, but this job belongs to Cauley-Stein now. Of course, this leads many to question what kind of defensive drop-off Kentucky will experience as a result.  I pondered that same question myself. Because of this, I’ve done some research using’s advanced player statistics, estimating what kind of drop-off we could be experiencing on defense.

The first thing to note; uses individual player percentages and not the regular raw totals that you’ve probably grown accustomed to over the years. Because of this, I’ll translate the numbers into per-game totals once calculated.  Secondly, I’ll be making three general assumptions in order to keep the experiment unbiased.  The assumptions are number of opponent two point attempts, number of opponent possessions, and number of available defensive rebound opportunities. The numbers I’ll be using are 40 opponent two-point attempts, 68 possessions, and 35 potential rebounds. These are totals typically experienced in a 2013 Kentucky game.  By holding these numbers constant, I’ll be able to make a fair estimate of the potential drop-off. Finally, I’ll hold their minutes constant at 80% of total minutes played.  The below table contains what Noel and Cauley-Stein “should” accomplish in those theoretical constraints.

**All calculations were made assuming that both players logged 80% of team minutes.**

The above chart should confirm two things we already know. One, Nerlens Noel was a really, really good defender.  Two, there’s a sizable statistical drop-off between Noel and a defender who isn’t as talented.  But unlike before, we know what to reasonably expect from Cauley-Stein when he anchors the defense.  Assuming that opponents attempt 40 interior shots, have 35 offensive rebound opportunities, and possess the ball 68 times, we can expect a 1.7 per-game drop-off in blocked shots, a 0.9 per-game fall-off in steals, and a 1.2 per-game loss in defensive rebounding.  Cauley-Stein has also proven to be more foul prone, getting whistled 4.2 times per-40 minutes, one more than Noel.  These numbers alone are petrifying.

First, know that this experiment was purely done to measure the probable statistical loss when Willie replaces Nerlens.  Some of the Kenpom data was calculated with both players on the floor, so that assuredly shifted the final numbers in some shape or form.  It’s also worth mentioning that these numbers don’t reflect the possessions that Noel altered with his presence alone.  And finally, there’s no doubting the emotional benefit that Noel served this team, so consider that as well.  But when solely considering the numbers, the fall-off should affect around four statistical possessions a game. It may not seem that significant, but four possessions could make or break our tournament hopes at this point.   Even though Cauley-Stein is a very capable defender, he’s unfortunately not Nerlens Noel. Nor is anyone.  While it’s unfair to expect Nerlens-like defensive production out of anybody, it’ll have to happen for NCAA hopes to stay alive.

Article written by Jonathan Schuette

17 Comments for What Kentucky Lost In Nerlens: By The Numbers

  1. TruCat
    8:09 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Agree that Noel makes WCS better when they are both on the floor, so that skews stats. Much easier to attack WCS than Noel. I like Willie’s efort and he is actually a more skilled offensive player, but foul trouble will affect his minutes and the cupboard is bare!

  2. fatcat
    8:10 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Nothing to talk about! Season over!

  3. Goodbye
    8:14 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    #2-Let’s cancel the remaining games then so you can bitch about something else.

  4. Whistle
    8:16 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Did you read this too? Why steal articles?

  5. brain
    8:24 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Is that you chicken little? Grow a sack.

  6. Whatttt
    8:26 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    I wonder what Willys number would be if he would have got the minute that Noel was getting I am just sayin

  7. TruCat
    8:32 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    6- “**All calculations were made assuming that both players logged 80% of team minutes.**”

  8. C'mon
    8:38 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    This is a study that to me, is very skewed and ultimately pointless. No matter what C-S does, ultimately the season now rests in EVERY player on this team stepping up and working together (however unlikely that may be). We can only hope for the best and hope everyone gets on board.

  9. Breal1515
    8:55 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Maybe rub sum more salt in the cut, we lost our best player, we have no bench the only silver lining is the SEC is weak, and if course next year, this year had went from bridge year to causeway

  10. Al's IndiCats
    8:58 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Stats aren’t ca ca folks….It’s him in the paint altering shots, making the guard that’s driving to the basket to have second thoughts about being in the paint at the same time as Nerlens. The season isn’t lost for you freaking nay sayers. REMEMBER…..We are the NEEDLE!

  11. Ukfan
    9:04 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Nerlens Noel was a really, really good defender? Lol. How about Nerlens Noel was the best defender in the country.

  12. Matt
    9:51 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    You must be the most depressing math-geek/writer this site has ever had……

  13. #4 is a baby
    9:55 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    I would think what ever the stats say you could double that to find his real impact on this team. Against Miss. Noel dominated that game and only had 2 points. The season isn’t over if anybody has watched Boston this year you would know Rondo was clearly there best player. After his injury the others have stepped up and the team is actually playing better now with out him. The same could happen here. This UK not Morehead we have good players not just 1. Granted to others haven’t been playing up to their potential but this could make them play better!
    4) people like you make me sick! So what if he did steal it? Why do some like you complain when the writers put up stories from other places so we the readers don’t have to go to other sites to get our news. This is a free site, I like that they give you info that you normally would have to pay for! If you don’t like it stay on the other sites and leave the rest of us alone. The term for people like you is a bitch! Why complain about something that helps you?

  14. Kyle
    9:58 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    The most important stat lost cannot be measured in numbers.

  15. Richard Dawson
    10:39 pm February 14, 2013 Permalink

    Show me Enes!

  16. Beavis
    6:43 am February 15, 2013 Permalink

    What this means is our guards are going to have to stop funneling people into the middle where Noel was and they are going to have to stay in front of who they are guarding.

  17. Bobby Knight's Shrink
    10:20 am February 15, 2013 Permalink

    Bottom line is now…if the perimeter defense doesn’t improve, and improve ASAP, WCS will be in constant foul trouble, and the CATS will be in major trouble !