LEXINGTON — I like Nerlens Noel and his well-oiled blocking machine.
“The Eraser” with the flat top is sure fun to watch even when he’s playing energetic defense, stealing and swatting the ball all over the floor like a flyswatter.
And, at this point, Kentucky’s Noel — who on Monday earned the SEC Freshman Player of the Week accolades for the second straight week — is easily my early choice for the SEC Player of the Year award, which is voted by the SEC coaches.
In Kentucky’s dramatic 87-74 victory over Ole Miss Tuesday night, Noel was a second-half monster, establishing a single-game school record of 12 blocked shots, including five game-changing blocks after drawing his fourth foul.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Noel is among the conference leaders in blocked shots (first with 4.8 average), rebounding (second with 9.3) and steals (third with 2.4).
The other leading contenders for the conference Player of the Year honors include Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Arkansas’ BJ Young, Missouri’s Phil Pressey, and a pair of standouts from a strong Mississippi club — flamboyant junior Marshall Henderson and senior Murphy Holloway.
But if Noel continues to play well overall with his explosive athleticism, he has an excellent chance to become the third UK player to capture the league’s award in the last four years.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis won the SEC Player of the Year honors last year, while UK’s John Wall took the honors in 2010.
And don’t forget another possible honor for Noel: SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Noel is a shoo-in for that award. If the 6-10, 228-pounder is selected as the SEC’s top defensive player, he would become the second straight Wildcat performer to do so in as many years. Davis was the 2012 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
In addition, UK is also promoting Noel as the national defensive player of the year. He has a good shot to get it, too, especially if Kentucky, now 14-6, improves and becomes a serious tournament threat down the road.
“I’m ecstatic how Nerlens is continuing to grow as a player,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari after last Saturday’s Kentucky-LSU matchup.
In 20 games, Noel is leading the Cats in rebounds, steals and blocked shots. He is also averaging 10.2 points, which is the fifth best in the team’s scoring department.
Noel has come close to notching a triple-double on several occasions. Against Texas A&M in UK’s 83-71 setback, Noel scoring 15 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked seven shots along with six assists and four steals.
Chris Mills, who played for coach Eddie Sutton during the late 1980s, is the only UK player in history to achieve a triple-double.
In this week’s SEC Coaches teleconference, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said Noel is an “incredible, incredible talent at the basket….
“Obviously, last year they had a very, very special player at the basket in Anthony Davis and Davis was probably a little bit bigger, and I’m not sure that he was the presence that Noel is at the basket defensively. He completely changes the game, plays with a lot of confidence, and you can see, a lot like Davis last year, as the season is getting further along, the kid is growing leaps and bounds offensively as well.”
While Noel — a projected No. 2 or No. 4 pick in the latest 2013 NBA mock drafts — may not match Davis’ shot-blocking records, he still will be in a very good company at UK, joining the likes of Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin, Jamaal Magloire and Andre Riddick along with Davis.
According to my calculations, Noel is on pace to finish with 157 blocks (or more) with 11 regular season games remaining and a minimum of two post-season games.
If Noel finishes at 157 blocks, he would be ranked No. 7 among the UK career leaders.
As you may know, Davis is currently at No. 5 on the list of school’s all-time leading shot-blockers with 186, averaging 4.65 blocks per game.
Davis did that by playing only one collegiate season, helping the Cats capture the 2012 national title in New Orleans.
Magloire, who played four years at UK, tops the career list with 268 blocks.
Davis’ 186 blocks, by the way, are the fourth-highest ever in one season in NCAA history. (Navy’s David Robinson holds the single-season record with 207 blocks in 1986.)
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Who should be named the Lexington Herald-Leader’s 2012 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year?
We’ll find out on Thursday night when the award winner will be announced.
When I submitted the ballot to the Herald-Leader a few weeks ago, my top choice was Anthony Davis with Calipari and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist following at No. 2 and No. 3.
I wrote and explained on the ballot that without future Olympic gold medalist Davis, the Wildcats wouldn’t have ended their 14-year drought of the NCAA title last spring.
In addition, Davis was an excellent example of what a student-athlete should represent at a major university. The Kentuckians love him and they are now buying his New Orleans Hornets jersey.
My Top 10 ballot also included the state of Kentucky’s Gold medalists like Claire Donahue and Angel McCoughtry in the 2012 London Olympics (in addition to Davis).
Also on my list were the names of three new Hall of Famers in Darrell Waltrip, Joe B. Hall and Dermontti Dawson.
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The newly-improved USA Today Sports Weekly recently came up with the grades of different schools’ new coaching hires in college football.
What did the publication say about Kentucky’s Mark Stoops? The Wildcats passed the exam, getting a grade of “A-“.
As for Tennessee’s Butch Jones, the Vols got a “B+”.
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Two pro baseball yearbooks have arrived on my sports desk.
Nashville-based Athlon Sports and Birmingham-based Lindy’s Sports, as usual, are filled with excellent color photography, fascinating articles and predications.
In both pre-season publications, the Cincinnati Reds have been chosen to win the NL’s Central Division, while the Braves from Atlanta are predicted to finish second in the East Division (but that was before the Justin Upton trade last week).
If you are a baseball lover, you will enjoy Athlon Sports and Lindy’s Sports like I have for many years.
If that’s not enough, don’t forget there is a recently-published book about former St. Louis Cardinals boss Tony La Russa, the third-winningest baseball manager in history.
Written along with Rick Hummel, the 420-page book, titled “One Last Strike” (William Morrow, $27.99) gives the inside story of La Russa’s career.
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A quick Super Bowl (or Bore) prediction: The Baltimore Ravens by 3.