Earlier this month, the Kansas Jayhawks were set as a +450 favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, but things have changed in a hurry. First, Kansas’ 7-foot freshman centre Joel Embiid hit the shelf with a stress fracture in his lower back. That injury put the Jayhawks behind the eight-ball.
They have now dropped three of their last five, including a Big 12 Tournament semifinal matchup against Iowa State.
Now, as we head into the NCAA Tournament, it’s the Florida Gators who check in at the top of the odds board at +439 with Michigan State (+526), Louisville (+617) and Arizona (+726) not far behind. Kansas has dropped to +1000 as Embiid’s injury situation remains up in the air.
He caused a stir by joining Kansas for a light workout earlier this week, but coach Bill Self maintained Embiid was a “longshot” to play in the opening weekend of the tournament. After that, it’s really anyone’s guess. Embiid is projected to be a top-3 pick in June’s NBA Entry Draft, so he has to be careful not to hurt his draft stock by coming back too early and the Jayhawks know that.
“We’re preparing like we won’t have him (at all), and then when he comes back, it’ll just be a bonus,” Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters. “But it is a little different. It kind of leaves your kids in limbo a little bit.”
That’s for sure. Kansas will have to rely on a small lineup and Andrew Wiggins to get through a tough South region of the bracket that includes the No. 1-overall seed Florida, Syracuse, UCLA and VCU. Without Embiid in the middle, Kansas’ road out of the region is much more difficult, especially if it runs into Florida’s frontcourt that features senior centre Patric Young.
Still, many are holding out hope that Embiid could return sooner rather than later. If all goes well and Kansas gets through its first two games of the Tourney, don’t rule Embiid out for next weekend.