Embiid absence a big blow for KU basketball, but not all hope is lost


Joel Embiid, KU freshman center. Photographed during KU's men's basketball media day Wed. Sept. 25, 2013.

Joel Embiid, KU freshman center. Photographed during KU's men's basketball media day Wed. Sept. 25, 2013. by Mike Yoder

It's crazy to think that the next piece of significant news we get about Kansas University freshman Joel Embiid could come with him sitting at a table in the Allen Fieldhouse media room, a microphone in front of face and his decision about the NBA on the tip of his tongue.

That reality became true in a very harsh manner on Monday evening, when KU coach Bill Self revealed the results of Embiid's second-opinion visit with back specialists in California, news that indicated Embiid was out for the Big 12 tournament and likely would miss the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.

The 23-8 Jayhawks are not the same team without Embiid on the floor. Opponents aren't as intimidated to drive to the rim. Points in the paint aren't as easy to come by. Heck, even as corny as they may have looked at times, the Jayhawks even miss the moments when Embiid liked to fire his long-fingered guns after a particularly big or even strong bucket.

Kansas center Joel Embiid fires off a couple of "pistols" in celebration after finishing a bucket after a TCU foul during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas center Joel Embiid fires off a couple of "pistols" in celebration after finishing a bucket after a TCU foul during the first half on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

So, yeah, there's reason to worry about KU's postseason chances without their most valuable player because the Jayhawks are not the same team without him. That might even be putting it mildly. They're a different team altogether.

But they are still talented. Very. And they are still deep. Luxuriously. And they do still have Self. Confidently. So they do still have a chance.

Playing, no advancing, without Embiid is not a simple equation. It's not as easy as saying Tarik Black has to step in and perform well in Embiid's absence because in basketball terms, mathematical equations or any other form of measurement Black does not equal Embiid. But Kansas can.

Andrew Wiggins can — and should — play more like he did against West Virginia last Saturday. He doesn't have to score 41 points each night out as long as he's that aggressive and competitive and dominant. If he is, whatever offense Black and Jamari Traylor can give in Embiid's spot will be gravy.

Kansas center Joel Embiid rejects a shot by Texas center Cameron Ridley during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Joel Embiid rejects a shot by Texas center Cameron Ridley during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Defensively, the Jayhawks could tinker with a zone defense or even press more. That seems to fuel Wiggins and likely would ensure that he plays with fire. It also would limit the number of times KU would have to sit down and guard in the half court, something that has been several levels below the Kansas standard throughout the season.

There's no way to sugar coat the loss of Embiid. It's a blow. A big one. And it turns Kansas from a team that would likely be one of the favorites to win it all into just another in a big pile of worthy contenders that have to play extremely well to make it to Dallas.

Good offense won't be enough anymore. Improved defense won't either. The Jayhawks have to be impressive on both ends without Embiid if they hope to see him suit up, well and rested, for what could be a couple of pretty important games down the stretch.

The talent is there, though. And it's the will of his teammates that will determine whether Embiid's stay-or-go press conference will be the next time we hear from him or if there are still a few finger pistols to fire before the season ends.


Jason Montgomery 8 years, 9 months ago

Smells like another second round exit to a double digit seed.

Glen Miller 8 years, 9 months ago

Smells like a hater! You people that troll these boards annoy me. Go to your Mizzou message board and enjoy the NIT.

Brad Farha 8 years, 9 months ago

Troll is a common term thrown around these days, but it applies in this case. He may have said a nice thing about Mangino once, but the rest is vitriol.

Rich Hetherington 8 years, 9 months ago

Get better JoJo, we'll be pulling for you and for the rest of our boys to play hard and keep us in it during your absence. One thing I know is that even without JoJo, I don't want to lose to OSU again! We're deep enough that we can weather this storm with great play from everyone else. Heck, maybe we'll even see Wiggins go off like he did against WV, but in a winning effort!

Brandon Mahon 8 years, 9 months ago

This situation is completely different but they can spin it like the last two KU teams. The team in 2011-2012 team with T-Rob, Withey, Releford, Taylor and Elijah. No one thought we should get to the Championship and we did. Those guys played with a chip on their shoulders and powered through games that no one thought we could win. They ended the season with 7 losses, this team has more talent and if they rally around this we can make a run. This could be like last years team, again more talent, but they rallied around everyone saying that we can do it, but look at them other than blowing the game against Michigan we fought and overcame alot of bad games. Yet they had less loses on the season, but again I think we are younger but the talent is out of the roof.

Glen Miller 8 years, 9 months ago

There is a player in there that impacted the game in the same way Embiid did defensively..... WIthey. It's just a known fact. When we don't have a rim protector, we are just not as good defensively. The problem is that our defense this year is worse than others and Embiid allowed us to get away with it. Without him back there to cover or breakdowns..... it will be tough. Tharpe cannot guard the point. Wiggins gets tired running all over the court covering their best player and it affects his offense. Black fouls too much. Ellis is not a defensive player at all. Selden needs to work on getting around screens. Mason is just too small. I think our deficiencies have been more glaring this year BECAUSE we are so young and have not had that time to gel like the team that you referenced above. THat team was ridiculously good on defense and that allowed us to get by with our offensive deficiencies because we could prevent other teams from scoring. This year we have a good offense, but even our offense is limited when Embiid is out. Plus, we saw what happens when we get into a shootout.... we still lose. I'm concerned that our defense will be our downfall. Every team we see in the dance will be West Virginia or better.

Ben Kane 8 years, 9 months ago

you nailed it. losing Jo doesn't hurt our offense that much at all but it just destroys our defense that was extremely reliant on his abilities to make up for lack of defense from everybody else.
I can see this going very badly for the tournament. Don't forget Black's propensity to pick up 2 quickies, i guarantee that happens somewhere along the way. I like the idea of more press/zone but i don't think there is enough time left in the season to rest our defensive hopes on that.

In Self I trust though and once again tip the cap to the man for putting Jo's best interest ahead of this year's team interest.

Mark Lindrud 8 years, 9 months ago

If we can't beat West Virginia without Embiid we aren't going far in the tournament with teams that will be better than what WV has to offer. Both times Embiid has been out teams attacked the middle and beat us up inside. The blueprint on beating us without Embiid is there and the nation has seen it. If we somehow make it to the Sweet 16, which has just become more difficult, there is no guarantee Joel can stay healthy when he returns.

Billy Gibbons 8 years, 9 months ago

Relax. We couldn't beat a solid WV team ON THE ROAD. As long as we don't drop to a 4 seed we won't play anyone scary, and should still be playing them in St Louis or San Antonio. We won't get a 4 unless OSU kills us, and that game is in KC. The Cowboy's BEST road win was by one point on a last second 3 at WV. Their other TWO road wins were TCU and South Florida. Please excuse me if I choose not to panic. If Embiid is cleared to play by the second weekend, Kansas will return to the final four.

Mark Lindrud 8 years, 9 months ago

I appreciate your positivity, cut Embiid returning doesn't fix our inconsistent point guard play. When you have to use three. You don't have one good one.

Billy Gibbons 8 years, 9 months ago

Actually, Mark, I disagree. Fixing our awful point guard defense is exactly what Embiid's return will do. With Embiid protecting the rim, opposing point guards have to pass when they reach the paint. Without Embiid, they shoot and we have to foul them.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 9 months ago

I agree Mark, our post season linked to Black and Tharpe starting does not bode well for us lasing very long. We just do not play consistently enough to win against quality opponents.

Phil Leister 8 years, 9 months ago

Well, this news all but assures us of the fact that JoJo is not coming back this year. No way does he risk an injury plagued sophomore year. I just hope we get to see him for a few more games in a Jayhawk uniform.

Keith Gellar 8 years, 9 months ago

i agree. if there's a possibility that his back could get injured again, he might as well go pro now and get the guaranteed money.

Aaron Levine 8 years, 9 months ago

While I think JoJo will leave, I don't put to much into the injury. He has a simple stress fracture in his lower back. This is an injury that heels typically with only rest. He was thrown to the ground violently a couple times to receive it. I am not aware of anyone who has chronic lower back stress fractures. This is not a long term concern for Joel.

Jonathan Allison 8 years, 9 months ago

"I am not aware of anyone who has chronic lower back stress fractures."

this argument wins the day.

Tony Bandle 8 years, 9 months ago

Coach Self, there is a simple equation that we must face;

[No Jo Jo] + [Current Backline Man Defense] = Z-O-N-E. Why??

1] Keep Tarik out of foul trouble.

2] Lessen the defensive pressure on the guards.

3] Put KU players in better postion for defensive rebounds.

4] More defensive rebounds means more fast break opportunities.

5] Provide more obstacles for getting to the rim...clog the paint.

6] Force teams to shoot from 21'-0" versus 21".

7] Our perimeter man-to-man defense is not particularily strong anyway so there is minimal drop off. If a team is hot from the outside, so be it.

Rich Hetherington 8 years, 9 months ago

I think that is really thought out and accurate. If only we had played it effectively a little more already, I'd be more confident in implementing it going forward. That said, I still like our chances of a post-season run. Boo to everyone who is throwing in the towel. Last time I checked, we still had 3 McD's All-Americans and a very high ceiling with this group!

John Fitzgerald 8 years, 9 months ago

You're right, it's definitely a blow, but I think as long as the players have confidence we can get him back on the court this year. If we can win the Big 12 tournament I think we will have gained that confidence, but of course we have to get through OSU first. Good luck Hawks and give it all you've got! Now is the time to shine.

Erich Hartmann 8 years, 9 months ago

Notice in the article, Tait mentions "whatever offense Black and Traylor can provide"...I see whatcha did there, leaving out Ellis. No mention of "Ellis" in entire article. Personally I like the energy Traylor brings, kid has no fear. He also has hops, not afraid to use them. Getting MORE out of every post player is now paramount.

Matt Tait 8 years, 9 months ago

Wasn't intended to be a slight to Ellis... He's a starter already and he won't be "filling in" for Embiid the way Black and Traylor will. That said, you're absolutely right that everyone on the team, including Ellis, will need to do more to help KU overcome Embiid's absence.

Josh Youle 8 years, 9 months ago

I'm gonna assume NBA teams do more than the 2 minutes of research I did on his injury, but it seems fairly common for someone his age and size. "It is especially common in growing adolescents and symptoms are often related to the 'growth spurt." That was pretty much the first thing I found on it. So relax on whether or not this effects his NBA prospects.

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