Can the Wildcats make the tournament without their star player? It’s possible but it’s going to be an uphill climb in order to accomplish such a task:
The NCAA tournament selection committee always assesses a team in the sense of what team will be on the court in March. And one with Noel would look a lot different than a Wildcats team without him.
“As with any injury that is significant to any player around the country, obviously it is truly a shame what has happened to Nerlens Noel,” said Mike Bobinski, chair of the NCAA tournament selection committee, during a teleconference Wednesday. “Sorry to see that for him personally, and for the Kentucky team.
“The reality is we have about 4½ weeks of basketball left to be able to watch Kentucky play and to see how they perform without him in the lineup now, and that will really tell the story I think of how we ultimately judge and view Kentucky. It is way too early to consider them in, out or in between. We will clearly be watching them closely to see how they are able to play without a young man who clearly has been an important part of their success to this point.
It is worth noting that the selection committee will take Noel’s injury into consideration, but ultimately it will be up to the team to sway them with wins.
While making the tournament may seem like a long shot right now, it is possible. Injuries are said to have no bearing on whether or not a team makes the tournament, but as we just saw, it is on the minds of the individuals making the selections.
Kentucky is not nearly so high to begin with. They need to prove themselves again to the committee (if they even had in the first place). The Wildcats will have to show they can play tournament-quality basketball without Noel. If they can’t, they won’t get selected. It’s that simple. They have seven regular-season games left, including two at home with the SEC’s top two teams, so there are opportunities to prove themselves. We’ll just have to wait and see if they can.
Tennessee will provide the first proving ground for this team that has just experienced a heart-wrenching loss. It’s time to put up or shut up.