NEW YORK — In a best-case scenario for Kansas, they win their first two or three games without Joel Embiid and then he makes a triumphant return for the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament at the end of the month.
If all goes well, Embiid fits in seamlessly and the Jayhawks make a run to the Final Four in North Texas.
But the worst-case is that Kansas gets bounced on the first weekend and the 7-foot Embiid — the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft — never plays a single game in this NCAA Tournament.
“He may never play in the NCAA Tournament because they may not get out of the first weekend,” Greg Anthony said Wednesday at a brunch promoting CBS Sports and TNT’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s that significant of a loss.”
Kansas announced Tuesday that Embiid would miss the Big 12 Tournament and the first round of the NCAAs because of a back injury. He hasn’t played since March 1.
“The problem for Bill Self now is that when they tip it off in that [first] game he doesn’t know what he’s going to get because he doesn’t have a trust factor with the group that’s young,” Anthony said. “There’s so much ebb and flow, there’s so much inconsistency when you have some of these elite teams because their best players are freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for him to get that group to play well. I think that’s one reason why this tournament is going to be so compelling.”
Kansas could play Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday, and without Embiid to protect the basket they could be in trouble.
Ideally, Kansas gets a couple of games in the Big 12 Tournament to learn to play without Embiid.
“If Bill Self had a couple of weeks to play without him it would help dramatically,” Steve Kerr said. “We saw it last week when they moved [Andrew] Wiggins to the four and he has his best game of the year. He scores 41 points but they give up 92 to West Virginia so their defense is really compromised. Everything just changes, the rotation. Arizona lost Brandon Ashley a month ago.
“The first few games it looked like they were gonna lose in the first round of the [NCAA] Tournament. It took them about four or five games and then they figured it out, the change in rotations.
“When you have time and you’re a school like Kansas and you have the talent you can make the adjustments. But to make them on the fly during the NCAA Tournament is a lot to ask.”
There is also the issue of Embiid’s NBA Draft stock.
What happens if he never plays another game this season? What will that mean for him going forward?
“Only that his back did not receive the proper time to heal in order for him to compete in both the conference and NCAA Tournament,” one former NBA executive said. “From all indications his injury is minor and rest is the answer and not surgery. There is a red flag because of the back but if he decides to enter the draft every team’s medical staff in the Lottery especially will do their due diligence to determine what the long-term prognosis of his back injury is.
“I’m not that concerned right now moving forward unless it is determined at a later date that surgery is necessary.”
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