Good 'N Plenty: Wondering if Noel will leave UK? Ask his brother

by | College Basketball Insider
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Find out what Nerlens Noel's brother thinks about his prospects of returning to Kentucky, why the 'Cats can win at a higher rate without Noel in the lineup, why it took so long for Roy Williams to finally go small -- and who had the toughest-luck season of anyone in college hoops this season. All that plus when to expect Ryan Kelly and Will Yeguete back on the court and much more in this week's edition of Good 'N Plenty.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It would be surprising to just about everyone -- including the guy who shared a bedroom with him through childhood -- if Nerlens Noel returned to Kentucky next season.

"I'd be surprised if he comes back," Rodman Noel told me from his apartment in Raleigh on Wednesday afternoon. "Right now people still say he'll be a top-five pick. It would only be smart to take it while you can."

Rodman, a starting linebacker at NC State, said that his brother was clearly dejected when he finally spoke to him on Wednesday minutes after Nerlens learned he suffered a season-ending torn ACL. It's an injury that could also prematurely end his college career. Noel's draft stock, according to 10 NBA executives I communicated with in the last 48 hours, may drop a spot or two -- but he won't fall out of the top five and could still be taken with the No. 1 overall pick. The rehab is expected to take anywhere from six to eight months, according to Rodman, who also said that his younger brother "tore a little bit of his meniscus."

"What devastated him more than anything else was not being able to finish out the season," Rodman said. "Especially being his first year of college. He really wanted to play in the NCAA tournament."

Nerlens will be prepared to handle this since it's not his first go-around with a season-ending injury. He broke his leg during pregame warmups just a handful of games into his sophomore campaign at Everett (Mass.) High and missed the remainder of the season.

"That will help him," Rodman said. "He's already been through it, he's experienced it and he'll have the right mindset going into the surgery and the rehab. He can handle it."

Rodman's biggest fear was having to tell their mother, who left for Haiti, where she grew up, on Tuesday afternoon and had yet to call anyone in the family as of Thursday early afternoon.

"I'm hoping she calls Jim," Rodman said of his oldest brother, a football player at BC who will graduate in May. "Because she's gonna be upset."

Don't count out Cats

Kentucky will enjoy more success with Noel out of the lineup. I know it sounds completely insane, and you won't find a bigger Noel supporter than this writer. However, this is the one position in which John Calipari has someone that can slide right in and do some of the same things as his predecessor.

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Seven-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein can't really score in the post. Neither could Noel. Cauley-Stein is long and athletic. Ditto for Noel. Cauley-Stein can alter and block shots. Not at the same level as Noel, but he'll still give this Wildcats team a defensive presence down low. And Cauley-Stein plays hard on just about every possession, just like the guy he'll replace.

Sure, it'll affect the team's depth -- which isn't a strength, anyway. Cauley-Stein will have to learn to stay out of foul trouble. But here's my thought: This may finally light a fire under freshman Alex Poythress and maybe even Ryan Harrow. That duo couldn't fare any worse than it did Tuesday night in Gainesville -- and both have been key reasons why this team has underachieved thus far. This was a fringe NCAA tournament team with Noel in the lineup. It can easily remain that without him.

There are two "resume" games left on the slate and both come at Rupp. The first is Feb. 23 against Missouri and then it's the regular-season finale on March 9 when Florida comes to town. By then, this team will have become accustomed to playing without Noel. However, it won't be all that different going from Noel to Cauley-Stein.

Calipari tried to play the twin towers together, but it was a mess. Neither, as previously mentioned, is a scoring threat down low -- and both are shot-blockers who often leave their feet. The freshmen -- specifically Archie Goodwin and Poythress -- haven't developed much thus far this season and while many can argue that they aren't ready for the NBA, both will be definite first-rounders if they came out after this season. The same can be said for Cauley-Stein.

Even without Noel, the talent is still there. It's whether these guys will pick up the intensity and answer the challenge after losing their most reliable and productive player.

Moser still working way back from disastrous season

Mike Moser came back for this.

UNLV hard-playing power forward averaged a double-double last season in leading the Runnin' Rebels to one of the more surprising regular seasons in the country. He had barely played as a freshman at UCLA, but quickly turned himself into a potential first-rounder with the production, intensity, length and athleticism he displayed a year ago.

Moser could have gone to the NBA Draft. He might have slid into the back part of the first round, but likely would have been taken in the second round. Instead, he decided to come back to school -- and it's been a nightmare.

He suffered a hip flexor early in the season, and the injury was so painful that he had to sit and watch as his team returned to his hometown of Portland, Ore., on Dec. 4. Moser attempted to play the next game at California, but could only go five minutes. He sat out the next four contests before coming back on Dec. 29 for the matchup in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.

That's when he suffered a nasty dislocated elbow after just a dozen minutes. He watched the next two games as a spectator, and then was ineffective in a loss at New Mexico. Finally, the man who racked up 15 double-doubles last season went for one against Air Force on Jan. 12. But then he tweaked the hip injury.

"The season's been rough," Moser said. "I just haven't been able to get to 100 percent. Every time I think I'm getting close, I have a setback."

The hip flexor is fine. Completely healed, but the elbow remains bothersome. Moser needs to play with reckless abandon. That's what makes him a special player -- and he admits it's difficult to do since he's trying to make sure he protects his elbow. The doctors have said surgery is a viable option, but Moser's season would be history if he decides to go under the knife. He had just four points and four rebounds in 14 minutes on Wednesday night in a loss at Air Force and is averaging just 3.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in a little more than 16 minutes over the past eight games.

The skeptics said it would be difficult for UNLV coach Dave Rice to utilize a frontline of Moser, Anthony Bennett and Khem Birch due to the fact that neither Moser nor Bennett is a true small forward. However, we haven't truly been able to find out whether that trio can peacefully co-exist, even thrive, up front.

"I wouldn't say I'm best-suited to play the four in this system," Moser admitted. "It's definitely beneficial for both Anthony and me to play the power forward spot, but you just want the best player on the floor."

Moser hasn't given up on getting back to 100 percent -- or on this talented team peaking at the right time and making a postseason run. He maintains he's as close to full-strength as he's been in about 10 weeks, maybe somewhere around 75 or 80 percent. He also believes if he does get healthy and this group plays with intensity, UNLV can beat anyone in the country.

"I still think we can be the best team in the country," Moser said. "But we have to come together."

And Moser needs to return to the Moser from a year ago.

Roy Williams finally makes the move

Roy Williams finally went with small ball.

North Carolina's head coach said he'd been contemplating the move to insert P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup for the past four or five games, and he pulled the trigger prior to Wednesday night's contest against Duke at Cameron.

It should have happened weeks ago.

Williams didn't commit to sticking with the lineup -- which gets his best five players on the floor at the same time and puts James Michael McAdoo in the middle -- due to matchups. However, he should. The key with this unit is that teams also need to match up with them.

"We can run more with this group," senior guard Dexter Strickland said.

And if North Carolina isn't running, well, they probably aren't winning. At least not enough.

Now you have two deadly perimeter shooters in Hairston and Reggie Bullock on the floor with two guys who can both handle the ball in freshman Marcus Paige and Strickland -- and while McAdoo isn't a true big man, he's as effective in there as legitimate post players Desmond Hubert and Joel James. Hubert logged just one minute at Cameron and James was out with a concussion.

Hairston is instant offense. He finished with 23 points and was the key reason why the Tar Heels were in the game at Duke. Bullock can also score the ball. Their mere presence on the court helps everyone else due to the fact that defenses have to respect their perimeter shot, which gives Strickland and Paige driving lanes.

Miami's big man looking for Carolina sweep

Miami senior big man Reggie Johnson is looking for the clean sweep. The North Carolina native has already notched wins over the Tar Heels, Duke and NC State this season. He just needs to take care of Wake Forest to pull off the quartet of victories.

He grew up working Roy Williams' camps in Chapel Hill, but the Tar Heels told him that they'd offer a scholarship if Tyler Zeller opted to play elsewhere.

"It was a wrap," he said.

NC State didn't recruit him at all, and Wake Forest -- which was located about five miles away from his house -- also passed. Johnson landed at Miami, and it's been three seasons of anonymity. Until now. The Canes are undefeated in the ACC, two games in front of second-place Duke, and Miami has vaulted all the way to No. 3 in the national polls.

"No one saw this coming," Johnson said. "Undefeated and in first place in the ACC. No one thought this."

This was Johnson smiling as he looked over to the sidelines and saw LeBron and D-Wade watching him and his teammates pound North Carolina on Saturday.

"That shows how far we've come," Johnson said. "There's no way those guys would have ever considered coming to see us a couple years ago."

"It was sad to play here at home not too long ago," Johnson added. "That's why I loved to play on the road. That was a true college experience. I wanted to play at Carolina and at Duke. It was depressing here, but not anymore."

But Johnson understands that while an NCAA tournament appearance will be sweet (the Hurricanes went to a pair of NITs and failed to make the postseason in 2010), he and his teammates aren't just satisfied with dancing come March.

"You make your mark in the tournament," Johnson said. "That's when guys make their so-called money."

Johnson then referred to Kyle O'Quinn, who was drafted after leading Norfolk State to the upset over Missouri last March. The Canes have avoided the issues that plague some teams, with players focused and consumed by their personal appearances and their NBA Draft stock.

"If we play well, we'll have a lot of guys on this team that will have a chance to play pro," Johnson said.

Kelly, Yeguete target March returns

Duke's Ryan Kelly and Florida's Will Yeguete, two key pieces for their respective teams, are hoping to get back on the court in early March.

Kelly told me he'll be shedding his crutches in the next week and will progress steadily in hopes of a return with two or three games left in the regular season. There's optimism he'll be back for the matchup against Miami on March 2.

Billy Donovan said that Yeguete (6 ppg, 6.3 rpg), one of the most underrated players in the country, could return against Vanderbilt on March 6 or in the regular-season finale at Kentucky on March 9.

Double dribbles

  Jim Boeheim went after ESPN's Andy Katz in the postgame newser on Wednesday, calling him an "idiot and disloyal." It stems from the way ESPN handled the Bernie Fine situation, but this was uncalled for -- as Katz wasn't involved in the investigation aspect of the story and just did his job while following up in the aftermath.

 Kenny Boynton has matured. Florida's senior guard is taking the fewest shots of his four-year career -- and it's also resulted in fewer ill-advised shot attempts. Boynton only took three shots in the first half against Kentucky and seven overall in 35 minutes. Billy Donovan needed him to score early in his career, but the Gators have multiple weapons now and aren't nearly as reliant on him to put up points.  Kentucky's perimeter defense was abysmal against Florida, and when I asked Scottie Wilbekin if it was easy as it looked for him to get into the lane at will, he didn't hesitate. "Yeah," he said. "I was really shocked."

 Miami's Shane Larkin said he didn't leave DePaul after six weeks due to homesickness, as many have speculated, but due to an illness in his family.

 Here's a piece of advice: Don't eat at Five Guys for three consecutive meals. I love that place, but I'm still paying the price.

 More props to Memphis guard Joe Jackson, who had 21 points and 10 assists in what became a rout over Central Florida. Jackson is now shooting 49 percent from deep.

 Virginia Tech senior Erick Green continues to have a stellar season despite the Hokies’ struggles. He's leading the nation in scoring (25.2 ppg) and is also averaging nearly four assists and more than four boards per contest.

 Creighton misses Josh Jones. The senior wing's career ended due to a heart issue after just eight games. The Bluejays have lost three straight and five of their last eight.

 Circle March 2 on your calendar as a day to sit on your couch. Louisville is at Syracuse (12 p.m. ET), Butler heads to VCU (12 p.m.), Michigan State travels to Michigan (5:15 ET), Miami plays at Duke (6 ET) and Arizona faces UCLA in Pauley (9 ET).

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