Well, the high top fade is skipping the Dome and heading to Rupp instead. It's cool. Despite a sudden rash of internet rumors that Nerlens Noel was going to commit to the unlikely Georgetown Hoyas and his proclamation that he was "'gon shock the world", he did exactly what everyone expected him to do and joined that NBA lottery pick factory that is the Kentucky Wildcats. So, what does it mean for the Syracuse Orange?
Sure, Noel would have been the crown jewel of an already great 2012 recruiting class and immediately vaulted the Orange from "very good" to Final Four contender. But Coach Boeheim already had his plans set to proceed sans Nerlens. Unlike Kentucky or Georgetown, Syracuse didn't <em>need</em> Noel simply to field a decent squad. Jim B. has plenty of talent returning and even more headed to the Hill in the fall. I won't go so far as to say that the Orange are better off, or even just as good, without Noel, but it's not any sort of devastating blow. It's akin to the difference between driving a Passat and an Audi. Both are fine automobiles, once just has a little more flair.
Of course, missing out on a shot blocker of Noel's caliber will alter the way the Orange play. While all the talk of the 2011-12 squad was about steals and forcing turnovers, the hidden aspect is that much of the defensive pressure was made possible by the fact that Fab served as an eraser at the rim. What shots he didn't block, he altered, assuming he just didn't take it in the chest and collect a charge. By all accounts, Noel would have been able to do the same, allowing next year's team to pressure the perimeter the same way this one did.
Without that sort of defensive anchor, Syracuse will have to play a defensive style more akin to (shudder) a Wisconsin; keep opposing guards in front, close out on jump shooters, clean the defensive glass. Gambling for steals will have to be kept to a minimum. Luckily, Boeheim has the personnel to do this and the addition of DeJuan Coleman should shore up the work on the defensive glass. And, really, this sort of defense if really the rule rather than the exception. Guys like Craig Forth, Darryl Watkins and Jeremy McNeil certainly blocked their share of shots. But prior to Fab, Syracuse hasn't had a shot blocker that really deterred forays to the rim since Etan Thomas. A dominant shot blocker is always a nice luxury to have, but not critical to Boeheim's zone by any means. If anything, a dominant rebounder along the lines of Rick Jackson is more important to the overall defensive scheme.
No Nerlens? No problem.