Joel Embiid Injury Will Not Cost Kansas Against Stanford in 2014 NCAA Tournament

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Joel Embiid Injury Will Not Cost Kansas Against Stanford in 2014 NCAA Tournament
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Dear Kansas fans, the sky is not falling.

The program will once again be without Joel Embiid, the 7'0" center who has been a catalyst for the Jayhawks offense this season, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, but that certainly doesn't mean the team's hopes of getting to the Sweet 16 are dashed.

With one win under its belt in the NCAA tournament and a restructured offense over the last few games without the freshman, Kansas still looks like a team that can easily oust Stanford. Much of that confidence for Bill Self and his team comes from another standout freshman in Andrew Wiggins.

After coming in as the biggest name in the freshman class, Wiggins was somewhat overshadowed by Embiid. The 7-footer dominated down low for the Jayhawks and was such a presence in the paint on both sides of the court that he was thrust into talks of being the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

But with Embiid on the shelf for the last five games, Wiggins has shined in his absence. SportsCenter took a look at Wiggins' production without his freshman teammate on the court leading up to the tournament opener against Eastern Kentucky:

The freshman then went out and put up 19 points and four rebounds against the Colonels to help Kansas easily advance to the round of 32. But against a Stanford team that has already pulled off one upset, Wiggins will need to be the star once again.

Self spoke about Wiggins and how much he's grown down the stretch and into tournament time, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today):

"It's not like it used to be where, you know, the best thing about freshmen, they become sophomores. It's almost like, hey, you're a sophomore by the time conference play starts with all of the things these guys have experienced before getting to school."

Ironically enough, the freshman could match up against a fellow Ontario, Canada, player in Dwight Powell. Though the senior forward finished with just three points in the team's opener, Powell is averaging 13.9 points on the season.

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One of the biggest keys to stopping Stanford will be denying Powell, but also stopping Chasson Randle. The junior guard for the Cardinal has averaged 18.9 points on the season and tallied a total of 23 against New Mexico in the tournament opener while going 3-of-6 from behind the arc.

Randle has put up 20-plus points in four of his last five games and sounds confident that the Cardinal can down the Jayhawks on Sunday, according to Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News.

"I would hope we could just win it by playing Stanford basketball and not needing a miracle," he said. "But I'll take a win any sort of way."

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

While Randle believes his team can get by Kansas, the talent for the Jayhawks will thrust them once again into the Sweet 16.

What Kansas fans need to be worried about is Embiid's health moving forward. The center's back injury could eventually cost the program if he can't return next weekend. Luckily, the outlook is good for the return of Embiid, as USA Today reports:

Teammate Nadir Tharpe doesn't appear to be as confident, per Goodman:

"We really don't know," Tharpe said. "Some days he feels better than others. I don't know when he'll be back."

Though Embiid's status is still uncertain, Kansas should still easily dispatch Stanford and make its way to the second weekend of action. But without the freshman big man returning to action in the Sweet 16, Jayhawks fans might want to look up and make sure the sky is still in its rightful place.

 

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