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Injuries can take a season that’s on the verge of becoming special and turn it into a struggle at the drop of the hat, turning contenders into teams lucky to make it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament. Below are some key injuries you need to be aware of as we approach the month of March.
1) F Ryan Kelly (Duke)
Losing Kelly was a significant blow for the Blue Devils, who were the nation’s top-ranked team when the senior forward went down with a broken right foot. Kelly’s a “stretch 4” with range well out beyond the three-point line, averaging 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game at the time of his injury.
The Blue Devils are 4-2 without Kelly, dropping road games at NC State and Miami with the latter currently in command of the ACC race. Duke has seen a drop in their efficiency numbers on both ends of the floor but they’re still a formidable team, and they’ll be better when he returns to the court. Kelly’s out indefinitely but Duke expects him to return this season. When will that be? That’s anyone’s guess.
2) G C.J. McCollum (Lehigh)
McCollum was well on his way to All-America status before breaking a bone in his left foot in a loss at VCU on January 5, averaging 23.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Without the services of one of the nation’s best guards Lehigh, preseason favorite to win the Patriot League, saw that status handed over to Bucknell. But Dr. Brett Reed’s Mountain Hawks are tied atop the league standings with a 6-1 record, with one of the wins coming at Bucknell.
McCollum was projected to miss 8-10 weeks, which could (on the short end) put him back on the court in time for the Patriot League tournament. Lehigh can certainly win the conference without McCollum (projected to be a first round pick by many who follow the NBA Draft), and they may have to.
3) Lorenzo Brown (NC State)
Brown missed the Wolfpack’s 79-78 loss to No. 14 Miami on Saturday with a sprained left ankle, and it’s likely that he will be on the floor when the Wolfpack visit No. 5 Duke on Thursday night. In the first meeting between the two teams Brown dished out 13 assists, and he’s generally regarded as the best point guard in the ACC.
Without him NC State went with freshmen Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis at the point against Miami, and while those two performed admirably in a game the Wolfpack led for most of the afternoon this team needs Brown. In spite of their maddening habit of doing “NC State things” in games they’re expected to win, Brown is the kind of point guard capable of taking them a long way in March.
4) G Dominic Artis (Oregon)
The Ducks were the clear favorites to win the Pac-12…until Artis suffered a foot injury that has sidelined him for the last three games. Oregon’s 1-2 since Artis went down, averaging a staggering 21.7 turnovers per game. Now Dana Altman’s team is in the middle of a serious logjam atop the Pac-12 standings, and the longer their freshman point guard is out the more likely it becomes that Oregon’s Pac-12 title chances dwindle.
Artis is questionable for games this week against Colorado and Utah (Colorado has one of the league’s best perimeter defenders in guard Spencer Dinwiddie), and if he can return at full strength Oregon will be a factor in the league race.
5) F James Southerland (Syracuse)
It’s an academic issue rather than an injury that has Southerland sidelined for the Orange, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when the senior forward will be able to return to the court. One of the best sixth men in the country, Southerland is also a capable three-point shooter on a team devoid of any other consistent options in that department.
Without him freshman Jerami Grant has received more playing time and taken advantage of it in some spots, most recently scoring 14 points and in a 63-47 win over Notre Dame, but the Orange need Southerland back if they’re to have a shot at getting to the Final Four.
Some other injuries to keep an eye on include:
G P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): Suffered a concussion in a win at Boston College on January 29 and missed Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.
G Xavier Thames (San Diego State): Starting point guard has dealt with back issues all season long.
F Aaron Jones and G Nick Williams (Ole Miss): Jones (torn ACL) is done for the season while Williams (foot) will miss a significant amount of time for the Rebels.
F Greg Whittington (Georgetown): Academically ineligible so he won’t be back this season; Georgetown is 6-1 in his absence however.