It’s been quite clear that something hasn’t been right for Joel Embiid over the past week. He’s ascended from unranked recruit to possible No. 1 overall pick, but the 7-foot freshman has been visibly off in the Kansas Jayhawks‘ past three games.
It was only after Embiid saw eight minutes in the second half of Kansas’ 85-82 loss to Kansas State that Bill Self admitted it.
“Jo’s beat up. He’s beat up,” he said. Self indicated he plans to give his star center time to rest his ailing back, but stressed there’s no structural damage.
What does this mean for Kansas moving forward? Self seemed to imply that Embiid would be out for multiple games. With TCU and Texas Tech as the next two names on the Jayhawks’ schedule, the timing couldn’t be better. In what’s been a surprisingly competitive Big 12 this season, Kansas gets a brief hiatus from what’s been surely the nation’s most grueling schedule.
Clearly, you never want to see a young kid like Embiid go down, but his absence will benefit the Jayhawks over the long haul. Next in line for minutes behind Embiid is senior-transfer Tarik Black. He has played undoubtedly his best basketball of the season since returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him two games in late January.
Black has seen a sharp increase in playing time over Kansas’ past three games, including a season-high 23 at Baylor. He’s averaged nine points and just over six rebounds during this stretch as well, securing his spot as Self’s initial post player off the bench.
At 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, Black has the type of frame that makes players think twice about driving the lane. Though he has shown the tendency to get himself into foul trouble early and often, he’s a more-than-serviceable fill-in for Embiid. He likely finds himself back in the starting spot that the freshman took from him earlier in the season, at least temporarily.
Another player that Embiid’s injury holds implications for is sophomore forward Jamari Traylor. He, like Black, is a big-bodied power forward who’s found his place in Self’s system as a key player off of the bench. Aside from sitting out Kansas’ last contest for what Self called “inappropriate behavior,” Traylor has seen his role grow steadily grow throughout the season.
With both of their imposing statures and brute style of play, they’ve recently been dubbed the “Bruise Brothers” by various media. Traylor hates the name; Black loves it, but the idea is that the two have developed a certain chemistry with one another throughout the season. Black has embraced the role of mentor on this young Jayhawk team — he can routinely be seen giving advice to freshman on the Kansas bench — and has contributed more than a stat sheet would suggest.
Embiid’s injury will provide more in-game opportunity for the freshly-dubbed tandem as March quickly approaches. Kansas possesses arguably the deepest bench in college basketball and the Black-Traylor combo is a key piece of that. Expect each to improve even more as their familiarity with the other’s game continues to grow.
Three games from now, the Jayhawks will likely welcome back a rested and recovered Embiid and have given key reserves valuable playing time heading into a postseason in which they’ll surely be called upon. In the past, Kansas teams that have advanced far in March have faced some form of adversity late in the season before putting things together. Consider this that adversity.