Kansas’ Joel Embiid dealt with lower back issues in high school as well

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One of the biggest storylines of the week is the health of Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid, who isn’t expected to play in the Big 12 tournament this week due to his having a stress fracture in his lower back. What remains to be decided is just how long will Embiid have to sit, with the answer likely impacting the Jayhawks’ draw in the NCAA tournament.

“How quickly and if Jo comes back will be determined by his symptoms and how well he does in rehab,” Self said according to the Lawrence Journal-World. “I am not optimistic that there is a definite time frame, but I’m very optimistic that it’s possible that if our team is successful enough, he could play again this year.”

In the linked story, written by Tom Keegan of the Journal-World, Embiid’s back injury is compared to that of Emeka Okafor during UConn’s 2004 season. Okafor missed the entire Big East tournament with a stress fracture in his lower back, and the Huskies received a two-seed in the NCAA tournament with that health status likely having an impact.

With improved health thanks to the rest Okafor played at least 32 minutes in four of UConn’s six NCAA tournament games, with the exceptions being their Elite 8 win over Alabama (the Huskies rolled to an 87-71 victory) and the Final Four win over Duke (picked up two quick fouls in the first half). That scenario seems to be the hope for Kansas in regards to Embiid, with Self stating that the center won’t return until he’s ready to physically.

It should also be noted that Embiid dealt with lower back issues as a senior in high school, with his high school coach Justin Harden telling the Journal-World that it was a concern last spring.

“When you are 7-feet tall, there’s a lot more to take care of. You are 7-feet tall. There’s more stuff to be concerned with because your body is bigger,” Harden said, referring to tweaking different areas of the body.

“With some rest, he seemed to have it corrected (entering freshman season at KU). I’m sure with the rest he gets now … they have better doctors and trainers and staff over there (at KU) to rehab him and get him back to normal. I’m sure he’ll be all right soon enough,” Harden added.

Lower back problems can be (at the very least) a nuisance for regular people, much less an elite athlete. So with there being no concrete timeline provided by the school, who knows when we’ll see Embiid back on the floor for the Jayhawks. But it’s clearly a situation in which Kansas doesn’t want to rush him back out of fear of Embiid aggravating the injury.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.