MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) Kansas freshman Joel Embiid could miss time with back and knee injuries, and just how much might determine whether the seventh-ranked Jayhawks still have a shot at landing a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament.
The 7-footer has been dealing with a sprained knee and back trouble over the last few weeks, and he only played 18 minutes in an 85-82 overtime loss at rival Kansas State on Monday night.
”Joel is beat up. He’s beat up,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. ”I’m not going to make an excuse for him because you have to perform. But he’s going to need some time off. I don’t know how much time, but he’s going to need some time off.”
Article continues below ...
Self said the Jayhawks were hoping to nurse Embiid through the game against Kansas State knowing that they’d have a break before Saturday’s game against Big 12 bottom-dweller TCU. Whether Embiid even suits up for that game is unknown.
The Jayhawks (18-6, 9-2 Big 12) hold a narrow lead over Texas (18-5, 7-3) in the league race. The Longhorns, who beat Kansas last week in Austin, visit Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 22.
Despite having six losses, the Jayhawks are still in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament thanks mostly to their strength of schedule, by far the best in the country. Each loss has come against a team that was ranked at some point this season.
”I think sometimes fans don’t understand how hard it is to win away from home,” said Self, who had won 22 of his first 25 games against in-state rival Kansas State.
One of the season’s breakout stars, Embiid is averaging nearly 11 points and eight rebounds while positioning himself as a potential No. 1 draft pick if he leaves school early. But he only had six points and six rebounds against the Wildcats, often grabbing at the compression sleeves on his balky knee and holding his ailing side and back.
Embiid wasn’t available to reporters after the game, but he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that he believes he needs to get stronger before entering the NBA, leaving many Jayhawks fans with hope that he’ll be back for a second season in Lawrence.
”When I see those guys,” Embiid said, ”man, they’re really big.”
His limitations Monday night caused even more problems for Kansas when reserve forward Tarik Black turned his ankle fighting for a rebound. Even though he returned to the game, Black – who’s been dealing with his own nagging injuries – played only 22 minutes.
”Both teams were beat up,” Self said after the game.
Self also decided to sit another reserve forward, Jamari Traylor, for what the Jayhawks coach deemed ”irresponsible behavior.” Traylor had been averaging nearly 15 minutes, and often provided a big boost of energy off the bench this season. It was a lift the Jayhawks could have needed down the stretch against Kansas State.
”I think the world of him, but he needed to sit,” Self said, declining to say whether the suspension would last more than one game. ”I’ll re-evaluate it and we’ll see.”