Nerlens Noel's season-ending injury drained some pizazz from ESPN's GameDay show Saturday in Rupp Arena. Not that the all-sports network seeks pity. But the show must go on.
"It's more unfortunate for Kentucky," said Tom Engle, a producer of the GameDay hoop-a-palooza. " ... We'd love to see probably one of the marquee players in the country. To not have him on the court, it hurts us. But it hurts (Kentucky) a ton more."
GameDay has plenty of potential subjects to discuss, beginning with the Kentucky-Missouri game (tip-off at 9 p.m.). Even the anterior cruciate ligament Noel tore at Florida last week can serve to stimulate conversation.
"It immediately creates story lines for us," Engle said of the injury. "Who is going to be the next person to step up? What is (Noel's) decision going to be down the road as far as coming back to Kentucky?"
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Then there's the incessant assessments of teams' chances for an NCAA Tournament bid.
"I guess it opens up a lot more questions for us more than anything else," the producer said.
Engle, who has produced the GameDay show for two seasons, could not recall another instance of a participating team losing its star player a week or two before the game.
ESPN and UK expect a large crowd to attend the GameDay show, which begins at 10 a.m. on ESPNU and then shifts an hour later to ESPN. Two years ago, a record 22,144 came to Rupp Arena to watch the show.
"We're already hearing good numbers for Saturday," Engle said. The producer had heard estimates of a crowd of about 15,000.
"Which would be amazing," he said. "That would far exceed the crowds we've had this year."
The largest crowd so far was about 5,000 when GameDay originated from North Carolina State, Engle said.
Last season's largest crowd — about 5,000 — was part of the GameDay at Missouri.
"For us, the crowd doesn't necessarily (dictate) what kind of show we have," Engle said. "But it definitely builds energy in the arena, and I think our guys feed off that energy a little bit. ...
"I guess you could liken it to a sporting event. The overall excitement level goes up. Maybe their discussion will be more animated. They'll have more fun with the crowd."
The panelists for GameDay are expected to be Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps and Jalen Rose.
Tickets to GameDay, which are free, are available at Ticketmaster.com and at Ticketmaster outlets.
Doors open at 8 a.m. Saturday. The GameDay crew will first be shown during the 9 a.m. broadcast of SportsCenter on ESPN.