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Nerlens Noel’s season is done; Kentucky freshman tears ACL

Noel, a projected lottery pick, has torn his left ACL and won’t play again this season. (US Presswire)

Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel’s season — and likely college career — are over.

The 6-foot-10 Noel suffered a torn ACL midway through the second half in a loss at Florida on Tuesday night when he landed awkwardly after blocking Mike Rosario’s shot.

He was taken to a Gainesville hospital, where X-rays came back negative. However, an MRI on Wednesday morning back in Lexington showed the severity of the injury.

Noel is a potential No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. He was averaging 10.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.5 blocks entering the game against the Gators — and was considered by many as the best shot-blocker to come through college basketball in more than a decade.

It’s sad news for a player who played hard on virtually every possession — and had become the heart and soul of this Kentucky team. Multiple NBA sources told CBSSports.com that the injury could drop Noel a couple of spots in the draft, but that he’ll likely fall no lower than fifth — and could still be selected with the No. 1 pick.

“Look at what Adrian Peterson did this year,” one NBA executive said. “ACL’s are so common these days.”

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this Kentucky team, which has underachieved this season, now that Noel won’t be in the lineup. This has been a fringe NCAA tournament team — even with Noel in the middle. Now, unless someone steps up, the Cats could well be headed to the NIT. Look for John Calipari to give Noel’s minutes to another freshman athletic big man, Willie Cauley-Stein.

While Cauley-Stein’s upside could be even higher than that of Noel, he’s extremely raw and doesn’t have the feel on the defensive end that Noel possesses. Neither player is a legitimate low-post scoring option.

Kentucky is 17-7 overall and 8-3 in an anemic SEC. The Wildcats’ most impressive victory is in Oxford against a mediocre Ole Miss team.

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