Kentucky Basketball: How Nerlens Noel Must Improve to Get Cats in Big Dance

Nick NafpliotisCorrespondent IApril 6, 2017

Jan 2, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) reacts during the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

These are very dark times for the Big Blue Nation. For the first time since John Calipari began his tenure as the University of Kentucky men's basketball coach, the Wildcats are in real danger of not making the NCAA tournament.

And while this may seem like a somewhat normal letdown for any team the year after winning a national championship, the talent that UK possesses would make missing March Madness an unacceptable disappointment.

One of the bright spots for the Kentucky team, however, has been the play of Nerlens Noel. Aside from averaging a double-double per game (10.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg), he has also been an incredible defensive presence, helping to fill the void left by Anthony Davis last year by controlling the lane, blocking shots and having a motor that never seems to stop.

But the one area in which Noel can truly help this team is actually on the offensive side of the ball. He is arguably better than Anthony Davis was at creating his own shot, but has yet to fully realize his scoring potential this season.

Fellow B/R columnist (and current man-crush) Matt Overing has already pointed out that Noel's post play could improve a great deal just by utilizing his dominant hand under the basket for finishing moves and post-ups. Along that same line of reasoning, Noel should begin posting up more and calling for the ball instead of passively letting the play develop.

Noel may not be the best offensive weapon on this UK squad, but his combination of quickness and size wreaks havoc on opposing frontcourt defenders (when he actually gets the ball in a position from which he can score). About the only way they can stop him is to foul him.

Which brings me to my next point: free-throw shooting. Noel is currently shooting a dismal 57.1 percent from the charity stripe. That number looks even worse when you consider the fact that he has taken the third-most free-throw attempts on the team.

For all of the great hustle plays and leadership that he provides to the Kentucky team, Noel is still leaving too many points on the floor, both from missed opportunities and missed free throws. In another season, his already great play would be more than enough. But for the Wildcats to turn this one around, they need him to step up his offensive game now.


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