By Christopher Burgess
So, you have won the Big 12 Again, now it’s onto postseason play, where you have the one seed in your conference tournament. After hanging onto a one seed in NCAA bracket projections almost the entire second half of the year, you kind of stubbed your toe down the stretch. And even more alarmingly, your starting center (and potential number one overall draft pick), has a stress fracture in his back. Suddenly what looked like a promising season that if everything clicked could result in a championship for Bill Self’s boys has lost some of its luster.
The biggest news of the mediocre at best (and now bordering on catastrophic) end of the regular season came off the court for the Jayhawks. Word came out early this week that Joel Embiid will definitely miss the Big 12 Tournament, which totally makes sense long term. He’s also likely out (at least) the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas also lost two of three down the stretch to Oklahoma State (with an injury plagued Embiid) and West Virginia (without Embiid). To their credit they also put a whoopin’ on Texas Tech sans Embiid. The Kansas center also missed their game against Big 12 minnows TCU, which Kansas won easily.
So looking ahead to Selection Sunday, the NCAA committee knows that even without Joel Embiid, Kansas is almost definitely better than the Big 12 bottom feeders in TCU and Texas Tech. That doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, as TCU might, might, be the level of some 16 seed that sneaks into the tournament after finishing second or third in a low major conference regular season (not one of the huge upsets granted but still). They also will deal with what the committee saw in Morgantown this past weekend. That’s a taste in the mouths of the committee that The Jayhawks would be well advised to remove, especially since they have 8 losses on the season already.
So that brings us to the Big 12 Tournament. Does Kansas need a win or to win it all to make the NCAA Tournament? No. It’s not even close to that level. Is Kansas still in the running for a one seed? While they have one of the best resumes based solely on wins, maybe. With 8 losses, that’s probably a tough argument to make, especially if they accumulate a ninth loss in the conference tournament.
So realistically, what can Kansas expect in their tournament? They have a ton of talent left on their roster. Another player in the conversation for top NBA pick, and uber-recruit, Andrew Wiggins is still there. If they want to make a deep run in the conference and/or NCAA tournament, they’ll need him to show up in a big way (like he did against West Virginia). What he, or anyone else on Kansas, can’t replace though is the force inside that is suddenly missing without Embiid. Adjusting defensively both against post players and driving guards, will be what Kansas needs to work on the most.
They can use the Big 12 Tournament as a dry run for their NCAA appearance in that respect. This adjustment/learning period might be even more important for the Jayhawks psyche than their NCAA tournament seed, so it will be interesting to see how well and quickly they can adjust. A quick exit and Kansas might not have an abundance of confidence going against a low seed in the opening round and a 6th or 7th seed potentially in the second round.
Prediction: Kansas beats Oklahoma State, barely, and then loses to the winner of Iowa State. They end up with a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament where they make a run to the second weekend when they will need Joel Embiid’s presence to move into the Final Four. Back in Kansas City, Texas will knock off West Virginia, Oklahoma and Iowa State as they enter the NCAA Tournament on a roll.