Joel Embiid’s back costs Kansas their shot at greatness

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Injuries have taken their toll on college basketball more this season than in any season that I can remember, especially when it comes to those teams that are chasing Final Fours and national titles.

Michigan’s Mitch McGary had back issues all offseason and finally decided to get surgery, effectively ending his season, back in December. Arizona lost Brandon Ashley for the season when he broke his foot in January. Michigan State ended up as a No. 4 seed in large part because their four stars spent the season bouncing in and out of the lineup. Oklahoma State center Michael Cobbins ruptured his achilles tendon, leaving the Cowboys with a severe lack of depth in their front court.

Most recently, Iowa State suffered a massive blow when Georges Niang, their third-leading scorer and one of their most important pieces due to his ability to create mismatches for opponents, broke his foot in their opening round NCAA tournament game.

It’s a shame, really.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

Four of those teams were in the preseason top ten, and the only one that wasn’t, Iowa State, was in the top ten as we entered the tournament.

Four of those teams entered the NCAA tournament as national title contenders, and the only one that didn’t, Oklahoma State, was a trendy Final Four sleeper.

But none of them compare to the importance of Kansas missing Joel Embiid.

For those that don’t know, Embiid was the projected by many as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft for much of the season, only losing his grip on that consensus tag when a stress fracture in his spine started acting up. He aggravated the injury in a fall three weeks back against Oklahoma State, sat out the last two games of the regular season, missed the Big 12 tournament and was not available this weekend in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

And without Embiid, the Jayhawks struggled against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky before ultimately getting bounced by No. 10 seed Stanford on Sunday afternoon.

You may not agree, but I have no problem saying this: Kansas would not have lost to Stanford if Joel Embiid was in the lineup.

You don’t need to be the second coming of John Wooden to figure out that Kansas was nothing more than good without Embiid in the lineup.

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He was their anchor defensively, a shot blocker that cleaned up a lot of the mess caused by the mediocre perimeter defense this Kansas team had a habit of playing. He was their best low-post scorer, a guy that could get a bucket with his back to the basket and had the length and athleticism to be an option at the rim when the Kansas guards drove the lane. He brought a toughness and a tenacity to this group that some of their other stars seemed to lack; there were a number of times this season where Embiid was charged with a flagrant or a technical for emotional outbursts, and while those can hurt a team in the moment, that passion is not a bad thing for a team to have on the floor.

And if that wasn’t enough, Stanford just so happened to have the kind of personnel that could take advantage of Embiid’s absence. Johnny Dawkins has a seemingly endless string of seven-footers on his bench, all of whom were talented enough offensively to create problems for the suddenly-undersized Jayhawks. There’s a reason Tarik Black fouled out. There’s a reason that Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor were a combined 4-for-18 from the floor, the majority of which came around the rim.

That’s not the entire reason that the Jayhawks stumbled through Sunday’s loss. Andrew Wiggins finished with as many turnovers as points and only managed to get six shots up. Other than Conner Frankamp and Tarik Black, the Jayhawks shot 9-for-42 from the floor and just 1-for-9 from three.

Those numbers aren’t good by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not trying to argue that they are.

But it is worth noting that despite all of those bad basketball, Kansas lost by just three.

Embiid would have been the difference.

And if he were healthy — or if Kansas had been able to make it through to the Sweet 16, as Embiid told reporters after the game he would have been back on Thursday — we would have had a chance to see a team with potentially the top two picks in the NBA Draft try to make a run through the NCAA tournament.

Instead, Kansas is heading home.

And with all due respect to Johnny Dawkins and his Stanford team, that’s a shame.

At their best, at their healthiest, the Jayhawks are as probably good as anyone in the country.

But we’ll never get the chance to see them prove it.

TCU upends No. 18 Texas Tech

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Desmond Bane scored 27 points, Kevin Samuel had 11 points and 11 rebounds and TCU returned home after a miserable week on the road to upset No. 18 Texas Tech 65-54 on Tuesday night.

The Horned Frogs (13-5, 4-2 Big 12) pushed ahead to stay with a 13-2 run to start the second half. Bane had a 3-pointer and layup in the first 74 seconds after halftime, and his one-handed floater off the glass capped that spurt to put them up 40-33 with just over 16 minutes left.

Samuel, the 6-foot-11 sophomore center later had three consecutive baskets for the Frogs, with his dunk starting that stretch for the first double-digit lead. Then came two layups, the latter when after a near turnover he was able to get the putback when the ball rolled on the rim when the shot clock went off before falling through for a 51-38 lead.

Jahmi’us Ramsey had 15 points for Texas Tech (12-6, 3-3), which lost for the first time in its seven meetings as a ranked team against TCU. Terrence Shannon and TJ Holyfield each had 10.

TCU, a 2 1/2-point underdog, has won 14 of its last 19 conference home games, but was coming off losses of 32 points at No. 14 West Virginia and 20 at Oklahoma last week.

The Frogs scored the game’s first five points, but Texas Tech pushed to a 23-15 lead on a 3-pointer by Davide Moretti. After a jumper by Bane, the teams then traded turnovers before a dunk by Kyler Edwards, and the Red Raiders still led 31-27 at the break.

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders never really were able to recover after TCU’s opening spurt in the second half despite an always loud and large group of fans encouraging them with chants of “Raider Power” that at times were louder than the home fans. They were 0-for-7 on 3-pointers after halftime.

TCU: Bane was 10-of-15 shooting, including 6 of 8 on 3-pointers. When he wasn’t making deep shots, he was able to penetrate for layups and short floaters.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech hosts No. 15 Kentucky on Saturday in the only game of the Big 12/SEC Challenge matching two ranked teams. The Red Raiders are 0-4 against the Wildcats, but haven’t played them since 1994.

TCU is on the road to play Arkansas on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 21 Illinois runs away in 2nd half to sweep Purdue

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) After watching No. 21 Illinois play an uncharacteristic first half Tuesday night, coach Brad Underwood gave his team some simple instructions.

Then the Fighting Illini reverted to form.

Kofi Cockburn scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, Trent Frazier added 21 points and Illinois pulled away in the second half to beat Purdue 79-62.

“I don’t know if you can ever count on going 9 of 10 to start the second half, but I thought our guys executed,” Underwood said. “All you can ask is for an opposing coach or players to say `You guys played really, really hard and out toughed us.’ ”

It’s another milestone victory for the resurgent Illini (14-5, 6-2 Big Ten), winners of five straight.

They’re off to their best conference start since 2005-06, ended a seven-game losing streak at Mackey Arena and swept the season series with Purdue for the first time since 2008-09.

And after an atypical start to the game, Underwood got his team to follow a more common theme over the final 20 minutes. They outscored Purdue 50-32 in the second half, never giving the Boilermakers a chance.

Nojel Eastern had 14 points and Trevion Williams scored 12 to lead Purdue (10-9, 4-4), which has lost four of five and watched a 15-game winning streak in conference home games end.

“We were struggling to keep them out of the paint,” said Matt Haarms, who had 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks. “That was one of the points of emphasis before the game and we just weren’t to able to execute it.””

The Illini swung the momentum quickly, opening the second half with seven straight points to erase a 30-29 halftime lead. Then, after making five straight baskets to make it 49-39 with 13:30 to play, they extended the margin to 60-45 on Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s 3-pointer with 8:27 left.

Underwood’s defense didn’t allow Purdue to get closer than nine again.

“They didn’t do anything differently (in the second half), they executed better,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Illinois’ fight is so much better than ours. They have a great competitive spirit.”

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini pulled off a rare feat by winning a Big Ten road game. And the reason is obvious – defense travels. Illinois came into the game allowing 57.3 points as teams shot just 36.6% from the field and 31.1% on 3s during their previous four wins. They weren’t quite as good Tuesday, allowing Purdue to shoot 41.1% from the field and 37.5% on 3s – but they were more than good enough.

Purdue: The Boilermakers keep struggling to score, and it caught up to them again on Tuesday. After scoring only 37 points in the first meeting with Illinois, the Boilermakers couldn’t reach the 60-point mark on their home court until the final minute. If coach Matt Painter can’t find a solution soon, with the midway point of conference play fast approaching, it could be an even tougher final two months.

STAT SHEET

Illinois: Ayo Dosunmu finished with 18 points and a career high 11 assists. Bezhanishvili had 10 points. … Cockburn nearly posted a double-double in the first half with nine points and nine rebounds. … Frazier’s streak of turnover-free basketball ended at 193 minutes Tuesday. The guard went nearly 6 1/4 games between turnovers. … The Illini also snapped a seven-game losing streak at Mackey Arena.

Purdue: Matt Haarms had 10 points and six rebounds. Sasha Stefanovic had nine points. … The Boilermakers were outrebounded 37-19, giving Illinois an 83-53 advantage in this season’s two games. … The Boilermakers had won six straight home games against ranked opponents at home before Tuesday.

EARLY EXIT

Illinois guard Alan Griffin was ejected with 12:21 left in the first half for a flagrant 2 foul.

A replay review showed Griffin intentionally stomped on Stefanovic’s midsection after the Purdue guard had driven to the basket for a layup, bringing a crescendo of boos from the crowd. Stefanovic made one of two free throws for an unusual three-point play.

Underwood wasn’t any happier about it than the Purdue fans.

“He apologized to the young man and we don’t condone any of that,” he said. “That’s not part of anything we’re trying to do in our program.”

UP NEXT

Illinois hits the road again Saturday when it heads to Michigan.

Purdue welcomes Wisconsin in a rare Friday night contest in West Lafayette.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Ugly brawl breaks out at end of Kansas State-Kansas game

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Third-ranked Kansas and Kansas State ended their bitter showdown Tuesday night with a wild melee behind the basket that included punches, shoving and at least one player picking up a stool, moments after the Jayhawks tried to dribble out the time on their 81-59 victory.

Silvio De Sousa was stripped by the Wildcats’ DaJuan Gordon near midcourt and Gordon tried to go in for a layup. The Jayhawks’ big man recovered and blocked his shot, sending Gordon to the floor, then stood over him barking. That triggered benches to empty and punches to be thrown in what amounted to a rugby scrum. At one point, De Souza picked up a stool and held it above his head, looking like he was about to swing it at a Kansas State player before assistant coach Jerrance Howard grabbed it from him.

It took both coaching staffs and security to separate the teams. Then, adding to the bizarre finish, both teams were summoned back from the locker rooms by the officials and one-tenth of a second was put on the clock as Kansas State shot free throws to a chorus of boos from the few thousand fans who were still in the arena.

Christian Braun scored a career-high 20 points, Devon Dotson added 18 and Udoka Azubuike finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds for Kansas, which beat the Wildcats for the 14th straight time at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Jayhawks, who lost to Baylor 10 days ago, also avoided back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 1988-89.

Xavier Sneed had 16 points and David Sloan had 14 for the Wildcats (8-10, 1-5), who continue to struggle on the road. They have lost all three league contests away from Bramlage Coliseum after going 7-2 in those games a year ago, when they tied Texas Tech for the Big 12 title – ending the Jayhawks’ record-setting run of 14 consecutive championships.

The Jayhawks built a comfortable 39-23 lead by the break, and all of it – and then some – came during that soul-crushing 19-2 run midway through the first half that torpedoed just about any chance of an upset.

It began when Braun hit the first of what would become three 3-pointers by the freshman during the charge. It continued when the Jayhawks forced the Wildcats into a series of blown layups and easy misses, a pair of missed free throws, a shot clock violation and five turnovers that left coach Bruce Weber stamping his feet in frustration.

The run ended – fittingly – with Braun hitting another 3, giving the Jayhawks a 26-9 lead with less than 10 minutes left.

Braun, who played a mere 4 minutes last weekend at Texas, hit another from beyond the arc as the shot clock wound down to star the second half, and Kansas more than doubled up its biggest rival at 47-23 before the Wildcats showed some life.

Sloan started their own run with an easy basket, then he followed one by Sneed with two more. Cartier Diarra answered the fans that’d been heckling him all night from an early air-ball by adding a layup, and Gordon’s 3-pointer capped a 13-2 run that got Kansas State withing 49-36 with about 14 minutes left in the game.

Braun answered with another 3 during another big run that allowed the Jayhawks to put the game away.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was playing its third consecutive ranked opponent, and should have come in with some momentum after an easy win over then-No. 12 West Virginia. But after hanging with the Jayhawks the first few minutes, sloppy play and their inability to convert layups at the rim allowed Kansas to go on the run that defined the game.

Kansas didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but the Jayhawks dominated the glass, kept turnovers to a minimum and played one of their better defensive games all season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State heads to Alabama on Saturday for the Big 12-SEC Challenge.

Kansas welcomes back ex-Texas coach Rick Barnes with Tennessee on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Kansas and Kansas State end rivalry game in fight

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Kansas and Kansas State erupted into a fight on Tuesday night.

The Jayhawks were closing out an 81-60 Big 12 home win over their in-state rivals. Things got heated when the buzzer sounded.

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa threw a punch and picked up a chair during the chaos. It’s difficult to pinpoint specific things from there. Police, security and team personnel stepped in to clear up the melee.

It’s one of the uglier incidents in recent memory for the heated Kansas state rivalry.

We’re definitely going to see suspensions out of this Kansas and Kansas State fight. It will depend on what the Big 12 is able to see during its investigation. The conference will try to track down as much evidence as possible to see how this started and who instigated things further.

After the game, both coaches talked about the brawl and how things played out in their eyes.

Kansas and Kansas State have some recent history during this rivalry. Bill Self and Kansas forward Jamari Traylor had a difficult time with a court storm after Kansas State won on its home floor five years ago. But that was more of a student-related incident instead of the two teams starting a fight.

No. 3 Kansas improves to 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12 with the win. Christian Braun paced the Jayhawks with 20 points. Devon Dotson added 18 points while Udoka Azubuike had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

A clearly-frustrated Kansas State dropped to 8-10 and 1-5 in the Big 12 as the rebuilding season continues.

These two teams will meet again in the Octagon of Doom on Feb. 29. The fight in the first matchup will be something to monitor as Kansas could still be fighting for a Big 12 title or No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

It’s been a wild night in college basketball. Illinois’ Alan Griffin stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic and was ejected. This is yet another bad incident that doesn’t involve basketball.

Illinois’ Alan Griffin ejected for stepping on Purdue player

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Referees ejected Illinois’ Alan Griffin for stepping on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic on Tuesday night. The Boilermakers were hosting No. 24 Illinois in a heated Big Ten clash. The ejection happened midway through the first half when Griffin intentionally stepped on Stefanovic.

Griffin turned to run back on defense and clearly stepped on Stefanovic while he was on the ground. Attacking the basket and not getting a call, Stefanovic was on the ground when Griffin stepped on his chest.

Before the ejection, Griffin was scoreless.

A 6-foot-5 sophomore, Griffin is a key reserve during Illinois’ resurgent season. Playing 17.9 minutes per game, Griffin is an adequate three-pointer shooter and good rebounder from the wing.

Potentially facing a suspension for his actions, Griffin’s potential absence is something to monitor.

Following an important Big Ten road win for No. 24 Illinois, head coach Brad Underwood spoke out against Griffin’s actions.