After getting a second opinion from a spinal specialist, Kansas coach Bill Self confirmed that Joel Embiid has a stress fracture and will miss the Big 12 tournament, and most likely—at the very least—the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This could—and maybe should—have major implications for Selection Sunday.
The freshman center has been key for the 23-8 Jayhawks, seeded first in the Big 12 tourney, on both ends of the court all year. Leading the team in blocking rebounding and third in points, Kansas should have enough other options to make up for his scoring, but his defending will be harder to replace—opponents shot nearly five percent better from two in games where Embiid played fewer than 20 minutes.
They're not the same team without foul magnet Tarik Black starting in his place, and it showed in Saturday's loss to West Virginia, as Kansas allowed three opponents to put up 20-plus points for the first time all year.
So the NCAA tournament selection committee is left with a conundrum: When the bracket is seeded, should the Jayhawks be regarded as the regular season team they were with Embiid, or punished for the clearly incomplete squad they'll be without him? Committee chair Ron Wellman told ESPN's Andy Katz that it's a damn hard question, one that'll likely come down to individual members' own philosophies about the selection process.
"I can assure you it will be a detailed discussion as to when he is going to be available, and we will be monitoring and communicating with Kansas throughout the week as to what his availability will be going forward," Wellman said.
"If you are projecting what they are going to do, then that injury of course takes on more importance. If you are rewarding them for what they have done in the season, then you just base your decisions, whether it be selection or seeding, upon what they have shown thus far in the season and their accomplishments this season. I think that is a discussion that we will have in the committee room."
That's sort of a non-answer, but one that's understandable because there is no easy answer. The selection committee's guidelines make reference to rewarding the "best" teams, and also to ensuring "competitive balance" in the bracket. That seems open to interpretation, even more so because the committee's own history can't agree on the proper way to treat a team with an injured star.
In 2000, the selection committee gave a Loren Woods-less Arizona a 1-seed, but explicitly said it dropped Cincinnati to a 2-seed because of the injury to Kenyon Martin. A furious Bob Huggins called it "totally ridiculous," and asked "How do they know how good we'll be without Kenyon?" In 2004, UConn received a 2-seed that some observers thought would have been a 1 if not for an injury to Emeka Okafor—though Okafor, like Embiid, was predicted to return by the end of the tournament (and did).
My own take is that this seed quibbling is an academic point, that for team like Kansas anything but a very deep tournament run will be a disappointment, so they're going to have to beat the best teams eventually. As a practical matter, it shouldn't end up mattering in the end—after the WVU loss, the consensus has them as a strong 2-seed, with a few holdouts arguing for the last 1-seed. A 2 sounds right. But arguing is the most fun part of selection Sunday, and the loss of Embiid—however long it lasts—is punishment enough.