Jason King of ESPN.com looks at the X-Factors or as he says, the guys influential enough to alter a conference race if they can find a way to improve on their inconsistent performances in nonconference play.
King says Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and his progression are a key part of the Wildcats title hopes.
C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
While most conferences have a clear-cut favorite, the SEC is a bit more difficult to predict. Florida and Missouri have been the top two teams thus far, but no one has forgotten about Kentucky — and that’s mainly because of Noel.
The No. 1-ranked prospect in the Class of 2012, Noel certainly hasn’t been bad for the 8-4 Wildcats, whose only decent win is against Maryland. But he hasn’t exactly been dominant, either. Just as his scouting report reads, Noel is not a prolific scorer (his 10.5 points come mostly on putbacks and dunks) and his free throw shooting (52.2 percent) leaves a lot to be desired. But that’s the thing about Noel — his upside is huge. It’s obvious he’s going to get a lot better. Heck, he already has, and so have the youthful Wildcats.
Noel, who averages 3.6 blocks, became one of college basketball’s elite defenders the moment he stepped on the court for his first game. If he continues to improve offensively — and if his teammates continue to progress — Kentucky could have Final Four potential, depending on matchups.
One thing no one has ever questioned about Noel is his work ethic and drive.
“When stuff hits, when stuff gets intense, he has something inside of him you can’t teach,” UK coach John Calipari told me in October. “It’s in there. I don’t know where he finds it, but when he does, it’s really something to watch.”
I love Noel’s hustle and motor and his defense has been strong, so I really don’t think he is the X-Factor for this team.
I think it is keeping Archie Goodwin under control and making right decisions on offense. An out of control Goodwin equals a mediocre Kentucky team.