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Rising Star: Kentucky Freshman Nerlens Noel

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By: Mark Chalifoux

This isn’t last year’s Kentucky team and Nerlens Noel is not Anthony Davis. The comparison was natural in the preseason. Like Davis, Noel was one of the top recruits in the country and figured to be the standout of Kentucky’s brand new roster. Unlike Davis, Noel does not have nearly as polish an offensive game and now, Kentucky is defending their title by merely clinging to stay in NCAA tournament consideration.

But make no mistake, Noel is one of the top prospects in college basketball this season and will certainly be a top-five pick in the next NBA draft.

(Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Let’s start with the positives. The 6-foot 10-inch freshman was expected to be just as dominant defensively as Davis and he has been that and more. Noel is one of the top, if not the best, defender in the nation. His fearless block party down the stretch in the 87-74 upset of Ole Miss proved that. Playing with four fouls, Noel repeatedly challenged shooters around the rim and finished the game with an astonishing 12 blocks.

Nerlens Noel’s 12-block game:

And the negatives (in the eyes of NBA scouts): his offense just isn’t where it needs to be to dominate on both ends in the college game. Against Ole Miss, where he changed the game with his defense? He did not score a field goal, and finished with only two points.

What he does have is freakish athleticism (he runs the floor extremely well for a center) and has shown considerable progress this season. Look no further than the Feb. 2 overtime win over Texas A&M. He finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds to go with three assists and a pair of blocks. On the year, he’s averaging 10.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg and almost five blocks per game.

 (Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

He’s currently projected as the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, according to nbadraft.net. They compare him to Marcus Camby and praise his athleticism and high-ceiling, while noting he needs to add bulk (not uncommon for a college freshman).

Kentucky will not win the national championship this year. But, after a disappointing start, the Wildcats are starting to look like a team that could definitely make some noise come March. And when that happens, look for a much-improved Noel leading the way.

Mark Chalifoux is a college basketball contributor for CBS Local Digital Media and can be reached at mark.chalifoux@gmail.com and @markchalifoux on Twitter.