Coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks will have plenty of work to do to snag two victories and get a taste of the Sweet 16 without center and freshman phenom Joel Embiid.
Embiid will miss at least the first two games of the NCAA tournament, Self confirmed to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.
The Jayhawks will certainly miss Embiid during the opening days of March Madness, but they have plenty of options to overcome his absence and make a deep tournament run without him.
Senior forward Tarik Black will be key to establishing a post presence for the Jayhawks. Black has taken a backseat to Embiid this season after transferring from Memphis, as his overall numbers are down across the board.
|Season||Team||Minutes||Points||Rebounds||Field Goal %||Blocks|
However, when given the minutes to flex his muscle, Black has shown he can dominate the paint.
Black snagged 12 boards in 26 minutes during the Jayhawks' 77-70 overtime victory against Oklahoma State on March 13 and came up with 19 points in 27 minutes in a blowout victory over Texas Tech on March 5.
Even with a post presence, the Jayhawks' biggest issue will be defense, as they finished 188th in scoring defense and won't have Embiid's 2.6 blocks per game to mask any lingering issues. As Self told Gary Mihoces of USA Today:
It does change (minus Embiid) because we can make mistakes before and mistakes can be wiped away. And now mistakes (on the defensive end) turn into lay-ups. And so that's obviously a big difference.
One way to force teams to change their playing style is for Self to use the small-ball lineup he trotted out against Iowa State, with Brannen Greene at the 4. By forcing teams to match the Jayhawks' athletic speed rather than size, Self can take the games to the wing players, where he happens to have one of the best in the nation at that spot.
Freshman guard Andrew Wiggins will be tasked with raising his considerable game to ensure Kansas beats Eastern Kentucky and the winner of the New Mexico-Stanford matchup. According to Fox Sports' Sam Amico, some in the NBA already question if he has the necessary killer instinct.
#NBA scout on Kansas' Andrew Wiggins: "All the tools. Nice player in NBA for long time. Not sure he has personality to be super-duper star."— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) March 18, 2014
However, the stat gurus at ESPN show that Wiggins does plenty to raise his game with Embiid sidelined (h/t Full Court Prez).
Andrew Wiggins with/without Joel Embiid this season pic.twitter.com/utEJUD7ko8— Full Court Prez (@fullcourtprez) March 14, 2014
How Far Will the Jayhawks Advance in the NCAA Tournament?
If Wiggins continues his recent tear, which has featured outbursts of 41 points in a loss to West Virginia and 30 more against Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks will have plenty of firepower to overcome a leaky defense and their missing center.
Kansas has the necessary players to win games without Embiid, and holding out until the star center returns should be enough of a boost to propel this mighty program to yet another Final Four appearance and a shot at the NCAA championship.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.