Nerlens Noel had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks in Kentucky's 75-70 win over LSU Saturday in Rupp Arena.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Draft Express issued its latest snapshot for the 2013 NBA Draft on Friday. The forecast remains blue with a teasing layer of persistent questions.
Only one team has three projected first-round picks.
It's not Michigan, which figures to ascend to Number One Monday. The Wolverines have one -- and Trey Burke isn't even a Top 15 guy.
It's not Florida, although the Gators clearly look like the dominant team in the Southeastern Conference. They're unbeaten (6-0) and unthreatened, a third of the way through the SEC schedule.
Billy Donovan, Miracle Worker. Draft Express doesn't credit Florida with a single first-round pick.
You know the answer.
It's the same program as 2012 and 2010. It is John Calipari's team, the Kentucky group that high-fived and high-stepped its way out of Rupp Arena Saturday after surviving an encounter with a sagging Louisiana State team that has now lost five of its first six SEC games.
Think about that. Michigan, one projected first-rounder. Kansas, two. Syracuse, one. Florida, zero. Kentucky, three. Consider it a reminder that the Wildcats (13-6) are both the nation's most dangerous and daffy team.
They're young enough to think that beating a bad LSU team in Rupp by five when they were favored by 17 was a big deal. Calipari has spent months trying to make certain they're wise enough to realize nobody in the SEC fears those draft projections.
Are they getting the message?
"We still have a little ways to go, especially with one of our guys (Willie Cauley-Stein) out right now," said Archie Goodwin, a projected first-round pick.
"But once we get him back into the groove of things, and we just continue to communicate on the court and continue to figure these guys out, it's going to be something special."
Calipari was a bit less certain.
"It's nice to walk out of here with a win," he said. "It would have been an ugly L … We are not right, right now. You saw. I mean, we still are not – you've got to get out of your own self's way so you can bust through."
The final score was 75-70. It was closer than that. With 3.1 seconds to play, UK led, 71-70.
The Wildcats made the right plays in the final 3.1 seconds. They drained four free throws. They fouled, rather than let LSU launch a potential game-tying three-point shot. Give an assist to assistant coach John Robic, who reached out and pulled Nerlens Noel to the bench rather than let him wander on the court for a likely technical foul as UK's sixth man.
It's a victory that keeps the Wildcats in a three-way tie for third in the SEC. More important was avoiding a home loss to an LSU team with a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) number of 143 and Pomeroy computer rating of 135.
By winning, Kentucky remains in the chatter for an NCAA Tournament bid. By losing, Kentucky would have taken a major stain on its resume.
So the Wildcats keep running in place, needing a win at Mississippi Tuesday to impress the world.
It's risky to deny or overlook their talent. No matter how loudly people fuss about Calipari's latest group of rookies, Noel (ranked second), Alex Poythress (11th) and Goodwin (12th) give the Wildcats three of the top dozen players on the Draft Express board.
Even last season's Kentucky team, the one that treated the SEC like nasal hair, didn't have three guys taken in the first dozen picks. All three delivered against LSU – Noel with 10 points, eight rebounds and six blocks; Goodwin with 15 points and Poythress with his first career double-double (20/12).
But applauding Kentucky's performance remains just as dangerous because this LSU team had not won a conference game until last Wednesday. The Tigers played UK tougher than they played lowly Georgia.
What's going on here?
"They lack experience," said Johnny O'Bryant III, who played two games against Kentucky's NCAA champs last season and had 21 points for LSU Saturday.
"The group we played last year had (Terrence) Jones, (Doron) Lamb and (Darius) Miller, guys who could step up and be leaders when the game was on the line. The freshmen are also good players and they're going to learn as the season continues."
How does that lack of experience show?
"In tough situations," O'Bryant said. "Last year when they were in tough situations, you had older guys who could step up and get buckets or continue to make the team keep pushing. Whatever it took.
"I could see in their faces when things got tough, they were wondering who to look for or wondering who that veteran guy was to go to."
What Kentucky has is a team that is too erratic for the best teams to fear but too talented for anybody to dismiss.