The Kansas Jayhawks received some bad news this week. Freshman center Joel Embiid, one of the brightest NBA prospects in the college game today, is not going to play in this week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
Even more devastating is that he probably will not play in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament the following week.
According to Gary Bedore of the KUSports.com, Embiid has a stress fracture in his lower back that requires rehab but not surgery.
So, can Kansas win big games away from Allen Fieldhouse, against stiff competition, without Embiid?
The easy answer is no. The Jayhawks were awful last week against a scrappy West Virgina squad on the road, and do not look capable of beating teams better than TCU or Texas Tech.
That is unfortunate because it is more than likely Kansas will have to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys in their first game, in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday.
If the Jayhawks lose that game, or if they win but lose in the semi-final round, a number three seed will be the best they will be able to do for the NCAA Tournament. They might be able to get by a 14 seed (no guarantee there either), but they would be looking at number 6 seed as a probably match up in the second round.
If any team in the country can survive the loss of an inside force such as Joel Embiid, it could be Kansas. They are incredibly talented and have terrific athleticism. Unfortunately, they can’t play very good defense, and it is even worse without the big fellow in the paint.
This is the least effective team Bill Self has put on the court at Kansas defensively. They just do not come out with the usual fire and intensity game in and game out as we have witnessed before from this program. They have some players who flat out can’t, or won’t play defense.
Maybe they can come out and play some great defense for a game or two, or three. We have seen flashes. Unfortunately, they would have to come out and do it for 9 straight games to win both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. They haven’t shown yet they can play with the necessary defensive effort more than two or three games in a row.
Kansas has more depth on the inside than any team in the country. The Jayhawks still have a four players who can play significant minutes in the two post positions. Tarik Black, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, and Landen Lucas all offer some positive things to this team, but none of the defensive game changer that Embiid is.
If this was a more typical Kansas team that bought into defense, we could feel better about their chances to whether the storm. The athletic ability is there. Regrettably, the desire to play great defense, and the necessary leadership make a long run in the NCAA Tournament are not there.
It was doubtful Kansas could have played consistently enough to make it all the way to the Final Four before Embiid’s injury. Without him, they will be lucky to play more than one game in the Big 12 Tournament, and they may not make past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
There is a chance we have seen the last of Joel Embiid in a Kansas uniform. Bill Self will have to come up with maybe his greatest coaching accomplishment, which is saying a lot, just to get this team into the Sweet Sixteen, especially without his big man and defensive stopper.