Skip to content

Joel Embiid’s back costs Kansas their shot at greatness

Mar 23, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

source:

AP Photo

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.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

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.

Kentucky-Wichita State: Hype was justified | How good can Kentucky be?

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers out for the season with torn ACL

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT

    Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson AP

    Siyani Chambers is leaving Harvard for the year after a torn ACL.

  2. Mixtape of five-star 2016 forward T.J. Leaf (VIDEO)

    Sep 2, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    TJ Leaf (adidas) TJ Leaf (adidas)

    T.J. Leaf is a hot name on the recruiting trail after decommitting from Arizona.

  3. Addition of freshman guards could help Bryce Alford’s scoring

    Sep 1, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Bryce Alford is UCLA’s top returning scorer.

  4. Tom Izzo calls Denzel Valentine’s play during foreign tour ‘unbelievable’

    Sep 1, 2015, 8:42 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Denzel Valentine will be in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year this season.

  5. Four-star 2016 recruit Juwan Durham commits to UConn

    Sep 1, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    UConn landed its second four-star recruit in the Class of 2016.

  6. Four-star 2016 center sets four official visits

    Sep 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Jayce Johnson is focusing on five schools as he’s set four official visits.

  7. Rivalry games highlight Georgetown’s non-conference schedule

    Sep 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    John Thompson III AP

    Georgetown has some very intriguing games on the non-conference slate.

  8. Report: Arkansas signee Ted Kapita signs professional contract

    Sep 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Arkansas Razorbacks Anderson looks on as his team takes on the LSU Tigers during the first round of the SEC men's NCAA basketball tournament in New Orleans Reuters

    Arkansas won’t be getting a boost from the four-star big man.

  9. Pitt adds junior college guard for 2015-16 roster

    Sep 1, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    Big East Basketball Tournament - Syracuse v Pittsburgh Getty Images

    Pitt bolsters its backcourt with the late addition of a junior college guard.

  10. Coastal Carolina moving to Sun Belt

    Sep 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Conference realignment is still happening at the lower levels as Coastal Carolina makes a move to the Sun Belt.

  11. Summer mixtape of New York 2016 guard Shamorie Ponds (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    Shamorie Ponds is one of the best bucket-getting guards in the 2016 class.

  12. Malik Monk’s highlights from Nike Global Challenge (VIDEO)

    Aug 31, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT

    (USA Baketball) (USA Baketball)

    Malik Monk is rated No. 6 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.

  13. Iowa State adds three-star power forward Solomon Young

    Aug 31, 2015, 9:44 PM EDT

    Nike Nike

    It’s the second commit in as many nights for the Cyclones.

  14. Siena applies for waiver on behalf of Javion Ogunyemi

    Aug 31, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Jimmy Patsos AP

    Javion Ogunyemi averaged 9.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2014-15.

  15. Syracuse, Georgetown to officially renew rivalry on December 5

    Aug 31, 2015, 6:10 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The two teams last met in the 2013 Big East Tournament

  16. Indiana dismisses Emmitt Holt

    Aug 31, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Indiana dismissed the forward after his second alcohol-related incident.

  17. Bill Self remains “confident” Cheick Diallo will be eligible this season

    Aug 31, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Cheick Diallo is still waiting to hear from the NCAA Eligibility Center.