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 25, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT
Florida commit KeVaughn Allen had a great week at Peach Jam.
Jul 25, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Former Delaware guard Jarvis Threatt is turning pro after being dismissed from the program in June.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT
Didn’t believe Niang when he stated that he’d reshaped his body? Here’s visual evidence that he did.
Jul 25, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
New York City guard Rawle Alkins is one player to monitor in the Class of 2016.
Jul 25, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT
If allowed to do so, how would a draft of the Class of 2015′s best players go? Here’s our attempt.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
The Texas native isn’t happy some Texas schools pulled their scholarship offers.
Jul 25, 2014, 10:49 AM EDT
Two of the nation’s best big men were on the same court Thursday, with Zimmerman’s Oakland Soldiers getting the win.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Hipsher worked with Watson from 2009-11, when he was associate head coach at Alabama and Watson a grad assistant.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Despite the fact that Vujovic made it through the NCAA Eligibility Center, Monmouth has decided to not admit him.
Jul 24, 2014, 10:04 PM EDT
Eric McKnight’s waiver to play immediately was denied by the SEC.
Jul 24, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Groce is under .500 in Big Ten play in his two seasons at Illinois.
Jul 24, 2014, 8:34 PM EDT
Florida State will play five non-conference games against teams that reached the NCAA tournament last season.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The four latest five-star recruits that Cal landed all showed off their Kentucky threads on instagram.
Jul 24, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Mostella has travelled a long road to get to Knoxville.
Jul 24, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Austin has found a landing place, but it’s still a long way from the Division I ranks.
Jul 24, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Three true road games and a visit from the reigning champs?
Jul 24, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Thon Maker is a top five recruit in 2016 and would be a top two or three recruit in 2015.
Jul 24, 2014, 1:53 PM EDT
Hoiberg had surgery to replace his pacemaker last week.
Jul 24, 2014, 12:21 PM EDT
The events will be played in November and December
Jul 24, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Mykhailiuk is playing in the B Division of the event.
- College Basketball Talk’s Class of 2015 Draft 0
- Marcus Foster still hasn’t forgotten, or forgiven, those pulled scholarships 2
- Las Vegas Thursday Recap: Skal Labissiere, Stephen Zimmerman perform well 0
- Malik Beasley looking to capitalize on a big spring, summer 0
- Top 15 recruit Antonio Blakeney has made the ‘jump’ — literally — to elite status 2
- July Live Period Week Two Superlatives 0
- Seven Takeaways from the Under Armour Finals 0
- Mother of elite recruit Josh Jackson: ‘Josh hasn’t been recruited by anyone’ (5)
- Isaiah Austin has a job with the NBA once he finishes degree at Baylor (2)
- Missouri State’s Marcus Marshall works to strengthen knee, leadership abilities (2)
- Report: 2015 phenom Ben Simmons fully committed to attending LSU (2)
- Mixtape for Ben Simmons, who proves he’s 2015′s No. 1 player (VIDEO) (2)