Oklahoma St.-Kansas Preview
The loss of Joel Embiid might affect Kansas’ chances of earning a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament even if it captures a seventh Big 12 tournament title in nine years.
A rejuvenated Oklahoma State would appear to provide another obstacle.
The 10th-ranked Jayhawks will try to overcome their leading rebounder and shot blocker’s absence as they face a Cowboys team trying to beat them for the second time this month in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Kansas coach Bill Self said Wednesday that Embiid likely won’t return from a stress fracture in his back until the NCAA tournament regionals should the Jayhawks advance that far. The native of Cameroon, projected as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft should he leave early, was averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks despite playing basketball for only a few years.
The loss of their 7-foot freshman center and Big 12 defensive player of the year could hinder the Jayhawks’ chances of getting a top seed later this month.
Cincinnati was dropped to a No. 2 seed in 2000 after losing national player of the year Kenyon Martin to a broken leg in the Conference USA tournament.
The Bearcats, who were 28-2 and ranked No. 1 heading into their league tournament, lost a second-round NCAA tournament game to a Self-coached Tulsa team.
"Obviously they were the best team in the country that year and they dropped a seed line. You never know," Self said, "and I’m not sure this year (seeds) matter a whole lot.
"We can still play well this weekend, without question."
Kansas (23-8), which won its 10th straight Big 12 regular-season title, split its two games after Embiid aggravated his back injury. The Jayhawks lost 92-86 at West Virginia in Saturday’s regular-season finale despite Big 12 freshman of the year Andrew Wiggins providing a season-high 41 points.
Embiid’s replacement in the starting lineup, Tarik Black, was plagued by foul trouble and finished with two points after scoring a season-high 19 in an 82-57 rout of Texas Tech on March 5.
Oklahoma State (21-11) has won five of six since getting star sophomore Marcus Smart back from a three-game suspension, with the lone loss in overtime at No. 16 Iowa State in Saturday’s regular-season finale.
The Cowboys bounced back with an 80-62 win over Texas Tech in Wednesday’s tournament opener. Markel Brown scored 20 points and Smart provided an all-around effort with 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and six steals in Oklahoma State’s attempt to solidify its NCAA tournament status.
That losing streak ended with an 84-62 home win over the Red Raiders in his return from suspension Feb. 22. Oklahoma State also earned a 72-65 victory against then-No. 5 Kansas on March 1 during its current 5-1 stretch.
Smart had 20 of his 21 points in the second half of that game, and Brown also scored 21. Wiggins missed 11 of 16 shots while finishing with 15 points.
Wiggins was held to a season-low three points on 1-of-5 shooting in an 80-78 home win over the then-No. 9 Cowboys on Jan. 18. Naadir Tharpe led the way with 21 points and made a key basket with 36 seconds left to help fend off a late rally.
"You’re always going to miss a player like Embiid. He’s special. But they’ve got guys they can turn to and that can pick it up for them," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "We understand the challenge is going to be an incredible challenge. We have a lot of respect for Kansas, and we understand how good they are."
The winner of this game will face the winner of the Iowa State-Kansas State game in the semifinals Friday.