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. Belmont, Murray State top preseason Ohio Valley poll

    Oct 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    No surprise that Murray State and Belmont are expected to be at the top of the league.

  2. Report: Houston guard to miss two months with foot injury

    Oct 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    L.J. Rose,Michael Dixon Jr. AP

    L.J. Rose is expected to return around Christmas.

  3. Top 25 Countdown: No. 14 Florida Gators

    Oct 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The Gators are good enough to win the SEC. They have enough question marks to finish outside the top 25 as well.

  4. 2014-2015 Season Preview: College Basketball’s Top 13 Dunkers (VIDEOS)

    Oct 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Michael Qualls, Arkansas (Getty Images) Michael Qualls, Arkansas (Getty Images)

    These are the players to keep an eye on if you like seeing aerial acrobatics.

  5. Kansas State loses redshirt freshman to transfer

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    La Salle v Kansas State Getty Images

    Kansas State is losing a redshirt freshman to transfer.

  6. Virginia lands four-star guard from 2016 class

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    (adidas) (adidas)

    Virginia got a very skilled guard in the 2016 class.

  7. Florida lands three-star 2015 wing

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT

    Billy Donovan AP

    Florida landed an in-state Class of 2015 wing to make it a four-man class.

  8. Memphis grabs a commitment from a 2016 guard

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT

    Josh Pastner AP

    Memphis found a 2016 guard to join center Nick Marshall in the recruiting class.

  9. Report: SMU big man has work to do to be eligible for season

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Markus Kennedy AP

    SMU could be in trouble if a second-team all-league pick is ruled ineligible.

  10. Washington adds two forwards in 2015 class

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    Indian Hills Community College Indian Hills Community College

    Lorenzo Romar now has a six-man recruiting class for 2015.

  11. Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners

    Oct 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    Buddy Hield (AP Photo) Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

    Oklahoma has a chance to be the second-best team in the Big 12, especially if a key player receives a waiver.

  12. St. Joseph’s loses another front court piece for the 2014-15 season

    Oct 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Phil Martelli AP

    The Hawks will have a thin front court this season.

  13. 2014-2015 Season Preview: Which new coaching hires will succeed?

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Steve Wojciechowski AP

    Five new hires that should thrive, and five who may end up struggling.

  14. Report: Former Oklahoma State guard leaves his junior college

    Oct 20, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    Stevie Clark, Jevon Taylor AP

    Stevie Clark was dismissed from Oklahoma State after a pair of bizarre incidents involving the police.

  15. Maryland lands commitment from junior college point guard

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Mark Turgeon

    Jaylen Brantley is Maryland’s first commitment in the class.

  16. No longer supplementary pieces, two Texans will lead the way at Weber State

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Randy Rahe AP

    After riding the coattails of a pair of Californians, Weber State’s focus on recruiting the state of Texas will pay off this season.