On Friday, Kansas, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, got past upset-minded Eastern Kentucky, 80-69, in the Round of 64. For the Jayhawks, it was the fifth straight game playing without freshman center Joel Embiid, who is dealing with a back injury.
When KU takes the floor in St. Louis on Sunday against No. 10 Stanford, Embiid will miss a sixth consecutive game, according to a report from Jeff Goodman of ESPN. Entering the NCAA tournament, it was unlikely that Embiid would be able to go during the first weekend, and Kansas head coach Bill Self made that official on Saturday afternoon.
Self also told Goodman that Embiid would be questionable to appear in the Sweet 16, if the Jayhawks can get past the Cardinal on Sunday.
Even without Embiid in the lineup, KU still has a good frontline with second leading scorer Perry Ellis while Tarik Black and Jamari Traylor have both stepped up in recent games, such as Traylor’s 17 points and 14 rebounds against Eastern Kentucky. Despite missing Embiid’s 2.6 blocks per game, the Jayhawks were able to reject seven of the Colonels’ attempts on Friday.
Clearly, they will go up against a much better team on Sunday. The attention might be on Kansas’ missing piece inside, but the Jayhawks will need to focus in on the Cardinal’s talented backcourt of Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown. Both of them played every minute of Thursday’s win over New Mexico, scoring 33 of Stanford’s 58 points off 10-of-23 (6-of-9 from three) shooting.
The Stanford-Kansas Round of 32 matchup is scheduled to tip at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday, St. John’s sophomore center Chris Obekpa was diagnosed with a sprain and bone bruise in his right ankle after suffering an injury during practice. On Tuesday, St. John’s announced he could be sidelined for up to two weeks.
“Chris is a central part of what we do on both ends of the court. Our team will have to step up collectively in his absence,” St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin said in a statement. “Chris is not only an outstanding defender with shot blocking prowess but his recent offensive contributions have been a significant part of our team’s success. One of our team’s strengths is depth so we are confident in our front line players’ ability to see us through this challenging stretch.”
Despite starting Big East play 0-5, the Johnnies’ NCAA tournament hopes are very much alive. Obekpa, who is averaging 4.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, is one of the top rim protectors in the nation with his 7-5 wingspan. He’s been a key part of the Red Storm’s improved defense, which has led to eight wins in their last nine games.
The current streak doesn’t assure anything for St. John’s, which is currently slotted in the First Four in the latest edition of College Basketball Talk’s Bracketology.
St. John’s will need to boost its resume before Selection Sunday, which can happen with five games remaining in conference play. The Red Storm travel to Philadelphia on Saturday to take on No. 9 Villanova and will be back at home next Tuesday against Xavier, another team on the bubble.
Though, both of those games will be without the services of the 6-foot-9 Obekpa.
St. John’s hosts Butler at 9 p.m. on Tuesday night.
Arizona lost its unblemished record and No. 1 ranking on Saturday night. The Wildcats also lost starting forward Brandon Ashley to a foot injury that will sideline him for the remainder of the season.
The 6-foot-8 Ashley will likely undergo surgery, within the next couple of weeks, to fix his injured right foot, according to a report from Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star.
“It’s a season-ending foot injury and it’s obviously significant,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said on Monday afternoon. “First and foremost with an injury like that, it’s always about what’s in the best interest of the student-athlete and in this case, what’s in the best interest of Brandon Ashley’s future.
“Right now the next phase is just to determine … there’s different ways of doing surgery but again, which way is going to be in his best interest and that choice is made and he can have the surgery, move forward and have a prosperous career.”
With Ashley out, freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will likely be inserted into the starting lineup, moving fellow freshman Aaron Gordon to the four. According to Pascoe, players like Matt Korcheck, Elliott Pitts and Jordin Mayes could see a bump in minutes, coming off the bench along with reserve guard Gabe York.
Ashley was averaging 11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game, shooting 53 percent.
No. 2 Arizona plays its first game without its sophomore forward on Thursday night at home against Oregon.