The Kansas Jayhawks (22-7, 13-3) will have to earn a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament without their big freshman in the middle. The Jayhawks will take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-16, 5-11) Wednesday night in Allen Fieldhouse without Joel Embiid.
According to ESPN’s College Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman, since the Jayhawks already have the Big 12 Conference Championship locked up, Embiid is going to sit both of Kansas’ final two regular season games after re-injuring his lower back against Oklahoma State last Saturday.
The loss in Stillwater was Kansas’ 7th on the season, and may have disqualified them from a number one seed. It is possible for the Jayhawks to crawl back into that slot by finishing off the regular season with wins against Texas Tech tonight, and West Virginia on the road Saturday, and winning the Big 12 Conference tournament next weekend.
Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas will need to pick up the slack on the inside in Embiid’s absence. The center from Cameroon scores 11.2 points a game, grabs 8.1 rebounds, has 25 steals on the season and 72 blocks.
Maybe the hardest thing to replace is his mere presence in the lane. His shot blocking ability comes into play as opponents drive to the rim. He alters even more shots than he blocks. He has been able to clean up a lot of defensive mistakes made by teammates on the perimeter. None of the other players slated to replace his minutes will be as intimidating, or most likely, as effective.
Wednesday is Senior Night at Kansas, as Jayhawk fans will say goodbye to seniors Black and Justin Wesley. Though he won’t be honored tonight, it will most likely be the last game in the Phog for Andrew Wiggins. There is good chance Embiid has already played in his last game in front of the home town crowd. Wayne Selden. Jr. may also choose to enter the 2014 NBA Draft as well.
Senior Night is a great tradition at Kansas but it is being watered down significantly by the state of the college game. This is Black’s only season at Kansas, and Wesley is a walk-on.
Last year’s big senior class featuring players with significant playing time over their careers at Kansas may become a rarity without some rule changes in the NBA. Players with any talent just do not stay for 4 years as much anymore in big programs like Kansas. It is sad.
Defense and protecting possessions, two things Kansas has struggled with all season, are more important than ever without Joel Embiid in the line-up. The Jayhawk perimeter defenders must do a better job keeping opposing guards from attacking the lane and the rim.
This will particularly hard for Naadir Tharpe, in my opinion, one of the worst perimeter defenders Bill Self has ever recruited to Kansas. If Tharpe continually allows his man to run free, either the Red Raiders will knock home some threes, or they will be driving to the basket late in the shot clock, wracking up fouls on the Kansas big men as they try to help.
Tharpe has also had some issues over the season with turnovers. His overall assist to turnover ratio of nearly 2.5:1 is pretty good, but he has too many games with too many turnovers. Against the Cowboys last weekend, he had 5 assists and 6 turnovers. As starting point guard for the Kansas Jayhawks, he has to eliminate those games.
He doesn’t have to be a superstar for Kansas to win; he just has to be a solid, smart player on both ends of the court.
Texas Tech will try to slow the game down to a crawl tonight. They want to limit Kansas’ possessions over the course of the game. This game plan worked in Lubbock for Head Coach Tubby Smith as the Red Raiders almost pulled off the upset in the 1-point loss.
Kansas has shown over and over again they are not comfortable in a slow paced, defensively physical game. They want to get out and run up and down the court. A slow, plodding pace takes them out of rhythm.
Of course, it is harder to enforce your will on Kansas as an opponent coming into Allen Fieldhouse. Tech will need to execute all game long if they stand a chance.
Even without Joel Embiid, the Kansas Jayhawks will not go down easily at home.