Good News: So, Things Are Looking Shaky for Nerlens Noel, Huh?

via 247

Kentucky's prized freshman is starting to look a little less likely to suit up for Maryland's opener.

Good news for Maryland: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky's highly-prized freshman center, is in NCAA eligibility limbo. Per Zagsblog:

The NCAA 45-day window has begun for Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel and he has not yet been fully cleared, an NCAA source with direct knowledge of the case told ...

"Will it be resolved by Midnight Madness [on Friday]?" the source added. "Or even by the season opener? No one knows at this point. UK is downplaying it publicly but I'm sure they're a bit concerned."

We all love us some goofin' on Zags, but hey, we're yet to hear that Noel is, in fact, cleared to play - something that would be announced, have no doubt. So it's looking like, if nothing else, Zags just has the timeline. Keep the grain of salt, but it's not a particularly fanciful bit of reportage here.

This is actually exactly what Alex Len went through when he joined Maryland, getting 45 days worth of practice before having to sit out while the NCAA decided his case. (That 45-day period for Len, you may remember, ended the day after Maryland Madness.) What it means: Noel can practice, but not play, within this 45 day period, at least until the NCAA hands down its ruling on his eligibility.

The investigation isn't academic, like the Sam Cassell Jr. situation, but instead an inquiry into how Noel paid for his unofficial visits. Pete Thamel initially broke this story back in August, but since then there's been little movement. That the 45-day window has officially started means that this is, indeed, a full-blown investigation.

So, why do we care? Well, if the NCAA can't in fact come to a satisfactory conclusion by November 9, the day when Kentucky plays Maryland in the Barclays Center, Noel won't be able to play in that game. That's somewhat unlikely, but even if they do come to a decision before then, it increasingly seems like there's a good chance Noel could be suspended, just as Len was last season. A better comparison than Len might even be John Wall, who was suspended for his first two games at Kentucky for the exact same thing Noel is being investigated for right now. The NCAA rarely gets this deep into an investigation and finds nothing wrong.

Between the NCAA having to figure things out in a month and then having to find Noel clear of wrongdoing ... well, let's just say that there's a decent shot he'll miss the Maryland game.

And some people will say they're not happy about that, because they want to beat a full-strength Kentucky side and watch Shaquille Cleare embarrass Noel and yadda yadda yadda. Not me, though. A win's a win's a win, and by the end of the year when Kentucky's a top-20 team, being able to put down that Maryland won that game - even if it has an asterisk on it - is clearly superior to losing it. And no Noel makes that scenario a heck of a lot more likely.

Noel's potential absence would keep Kentucky without a defensive gamechanger on the court, and give Maryland a significant advantage down low. Noel was their best chance of matching up with a hopefully much-improved Alex Len; without him, they'll either have to turn to Willie Cauley-Stein, a seven-foot freshman (who was ranked lower than Shaquille Cleare, for a frame of reference) or ... Kyle Wiltjer? Haha. Kyle Wiltjer. Len would have three inches and probably about 15 pounds on the poor fella.

And the biggest impact could be the spillover effect; without Noel, either Cauley-Stein or Wiltjer needs to play the 5, taking away most of their post depth. Alex Poythress, a jumping jack true freshman and a natural three, would be forced up a spot to play power forward. Against James Padgett, that's not a big deal. But if Maryland plays with Shaquille Cleare and Alex Len on the floor at the same time? Bodies will be flying in the paint.

Of course, Noel still needs to be ineligible for any of this to have relevance. But that no longer seems like a pipe dream.

Ah, basketball's so close. Can't you just smell it?

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