Mar 23, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
Injuries have taken their toll on college basketball more this season than in any season that I can remember, especially when it comes to those teams that are chasing Final Fours and national titles.
Michigan’s Mitch McGary had back issues all offseason and finally decided to get surgery, effectively ending his season, back in December. Arizona lost Brandon Ashley for the season when he broke his foot in January. Michigan State ended up as a No. 4 seed in large part because their four stars spent the season bouncing in and out of the lineup. Oklahoma State center Michael Cobbins ruptured his achilles tendon, leaving the Cowboys with a severe lack of depth in their front court.
Most recently, Iowa State suffered a massive blow when Georges Niang, their third-leading scorer and one of their most important pieces due to his ability to create mismatches for opponents, broke his foot in their opening round NCAA tournament game.
It’s a shame, really.
Four of those teams were in the preseason top ten, and the only one that wasn’t, Iowa State, was in the top ten as we entered the tournament.
Four of those teams entered the NCAA tournament as national title contenders, and the only one that didn’t, Oklahoma State, was a trendy Final Four sleeper.
But none of them compare to the importance of Kansas missing Joel Embiid.
For those that don’t know, Embiid was the projected by many as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for much of the season, only losing his grip on that consensus tag when a stress fracture in his spine started acting up. He aggravated the injury in a fall three weeks back against Oklahoma State, sat out the last two games of the regular season, missed the Big 12 tournament and was not available this weekend in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
And without Embiid, the Jayhawks struggled against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky before ultimately getting bounced by No. 10 seed Stanford on Sunday afternoon.
You may not agree, but I have no problem saying this: Kansas would not have lost to Stanford if Joel Embiid was in the lineup.
You don’t need to be the second coming of John Wooden to figure out that Kansas was nothing more than good without Embiid in the lineup.
He was their anchor defensively, a shot blocker that cleaned up a lot of the mess caused by the mediocre perimeter defense this Kansas team had a habit of playing. He was their best low-post scorer, a guy that could get a bucket with his back to the basket and had the length and athleticism to be an option at the rim when the Kansas guards drove the lane. He brought a toughness and a tenacity to this group that some of their other stars seemed to lack; there were a number of times this season where Embiid was charged with a flagrant or a technical for emotional outbursts, and while those can hurt a team in the moment, that passion is not a bad thing for a team to have on the floor.
And if that wasn’t enough, Stanford just so happened to have the kind of personnel that could take advantage of Embiid’s absence. Johnny Dawkins has a seemingly endless string of seven-footers on his bench, all of whom were talented enough offensively to create problems for the suddenly-undersized Jayhawks. There’s a reason Tarik Black fouled out. There’s a reason that Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor were a combined 4-for-18 from the floor, the majority of which came around the rim.
That’s not the entire reason that the Jayhawks stumbled through Sunday’s loss. Andrew Wiggins finished with as many turnovers as points and only managed to get six shots up. Other than Conner Frankamp and Tarik Black, the Jayhawks shot 9-for-42 from the floor and just 1-for-9 from three.
Those numbers aren’t good by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not trying to argue that they are.
But it is worth noting that despite all of those bad basketball, Kansas lost by just three.
Embiid would have been the difference.
And if he were healthy — or if Kansas had been able to make it through to the Sweet 16, as Embiid told reporters after the game he would have been back on Thursday — we would have had a chance to see a team with potentially the top two picks in the NBA Draft try to make a run through the NCAA tournament.
Instead, Kansas is heading home.
And with all due respect to Johnny Dawkins and his Stanford team, that’s a shame.
At their best, at their healthiest, the Jayhawks are as probably good as anyone in the country.
But we’ll never get the chance to see them prove it.
Jul 31, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Markelle Fultz was one of the best players during the July live evaluation period.
Jul 31, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Duke gets a huge official visit in late August from a five-star guard.
Jul 31, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
LaMelo Ball, a 13-year-old guard, committed to UCLA like his two older brothers.
Jul 31, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Michigan State sophomore guard Javon Bess will try to stay healthy and in the rotation next season.
Jul 31, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Both are perimeter players, giving the Spiders additional depth moving forward.
Jul 31, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
McLaughlin de-committed from Washington in mid-May, but the Huskies remain in the mix.
Jul 31, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
The injunction would have allowed current and future players to be compensated for the uses of their names, images and likenesses.
Jul 31, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
The two programs are ranked first and third, respectively, on the NCAA all-time wins list.
Jul 31, 2015, 11:07 AM EDT
Louisville, NC State, St. John’s and West Virginia remain in the running for his pledge.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
Powell’s recruiting profile has risen thanks to the way he’s played throughout the summer.
Jul 30, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
With Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury being seniors, having two front court commits in 2016 is good news for the Hawkeyes.
Jul 30, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
The Cardinal need to account for the loss of their top three scorers (and top two rebounders) from last season’s NIT champion team.
Jul 30, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT
The Crusaders are getting back the league’s defensive player of the year.
Jul 30, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Tyndall’s one NCAA tournament win sure was memorable.
Jul 30, 2015, 12:03 PM EDT
The cousin of former Pitt forward Chevon Troutman has developed into a quality recruit himself.
Jul 30, 2015, 11:43 AM EDT
Jul 30, 2015, 10:12 AM EDT
Nigel Hayes has game. He doesn’t have bars.
Jul 29, 2015, 11:40 PM EDT
According to the report SMU met with the NCAA Committee on Infractions last month.
Jul 29, 2015, 10:35 PM EDT
Harding won’t join the program until 2018 however, as he’ll be taking his two-year LDS mission beforehand.
Jul 29, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
Director of player personnel Travis Diener is pegged as the best player in the games, with he and assistant Chris Carrawell trading some good-natured shots at each other.
- Steady improvement turning Alize Johnson into valued Division I prospect 0
- Report: SMU’s Larry Brown up against ‘lack of coach control’ charge 1
- If the NCAA is correct, Donnie Tyndall is in big, big trouble 2
- Former Memphis forward Austin Nichols transferring to Virginia 3
- Saturday Las Vegas Recap: Zach Norvell goes off, Josh Jackson makes it look easy 0
- Thursday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith and Frank Jackson battle; Lonzo Ball quiets critics; Wendell Carter talks visit 0
- Wednesday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith vs Lonzo Ball; Frank Jackson faces Kobi Simmons 0
- Nik Stauskas trolls Ohio State fans, claims Thad Matta didn’t know who he was (PHOTO) (6)
- United States wins bronze at Pan-Am Games (3)
- Former Memphis forward Austin Nichols transferring to Virginia (3)
- Wichita State forward working hard to improve offensive repertoire (3)
- Bruce Pearl on his time at Tennessee: ‘I ran a clean program’ (3)