Joel Embiid

Bill Self clarifies Joel Embiid’s postseason availability

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The upcoming Big 12 tournament could prove to be a defensive nightmare for Kansas, a team attempting to win its seventh conference tournament title in the past nine seasons. The squad has struggled throughout conference play keeping opponents from the bucket — the Jayhawks are allowing 1.02 points per possession, the most a Bill Self-coached KU team has ever allowed — and according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, Joel Embiid, KU’s shotblocking and defensive rebounding force, might not play in Kansas City this week. Embiid, who spent the weekend in California consulting with a back specialist (the result of an injury suffered several weeks ago), will play at some point during the postseason, but coach Bill Self isn’t confirming which postseason tournament his freshman 7-footer will participate in: “I’m 100 percent optimistic he’ll be back. We just don’t know yet whether it will be this week or next week … the big thing is having him for the following week [for the NCAA tournament], and I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”

At this point, there is little reason to play Embiid at all before next Thursday or Friday (whichever day the Jayhawks’ opening round contest takes place). Even though Embiid managed to post some spectacular stat-lines while dealing with his back woes — six blocks in a win over Texas, eleven defensive boards in an Oklahoma loss — the injury has still clearly hampered Embiid. A conference tournament title is nice, but not as spectacular as another national title, and Self and Co. will need a fully healthy Embiid if the squad intends to make a run through April’s first weekend. According to data compiled by Group Stats, there isn’t a major PPP difference when Embiid takes to the bench — opponents score one PPP when Embiid is playing, and 1.03 when he isn’t — but he is still an integral element of KU’s defensive gameplan. KU lineups sans Embiid foul at a significantly higher rate (61 percent compared to 35 percent), and the center is a rare big that can not only post a nationally ranked block rate but also grab nearly 30 percent of opponents’ misses.

Even with four overall losses (and two in the last three games), Kansas has locked up a low seed, and there is no reason to risk a further injury. While the Jayhawks faithful will want another dominating performance in Kansas City, the safe, and smart, bet is for Embiid to wait another week.

Illinois’ injury woes continue as starting center needs knee surgery

George Niang,Abdel Nader,Mike Thorne, Jr.
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser
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Illinois suffered another blow in what has already turned out to be a brutal season.

Mike Thorne is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his meniscus. He reportedly underwent surgery on Monday to repair the injury.

Thorne, a transfer from Charlotte, was starting at center for the Illini and doing a good job of it as well. He was averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 boards, although Illinois has started off the season 3-4.

The reason for that slow start has mainly been those injuries. Tracy Abrams is already out for the season after tearing his achilles, and the Illini training room looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Kendrick Nunn just returned two games ago from surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. LeRon Black is still getting back to speed after offseason knee surgery. Jaylon Tate is back after dislocating a finger. Jalen Coleman-Lands was slowed by a stress fracture.

John Groce entered this season on the hot seat, and dealing with all of these injuries certainly isn’t helping his cause.

NEW PODCAST: Recapping Feast Week

Kris Dunn
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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We talk about a lot of stuff of the podcast today, mainly because a lot of stuff happened since we last spoke with you all.

For starters, we need to discuss the ‘realness’ of Syracuse and Xavier. Are they both truly top 15 teams, or do they just have top 15 resumes? We also dive into Chris Mack’s epic troll-job of Dayton at the Advocare Invitational final.

Other topics we touched on: Whether or not Scott is ever going to apologize to Wayne Selden, Wichita State’s tournament hopes, Texas A&M and whether we’d take Ben Simmons, Kris Dunn or Denzel Valentine today.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here. It’s the quickest way to get access on your cell phone or tablet.