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We'll never know what KU could've been with a healthy Joel Embiid

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ST. LOUIS -- It had been clear for a while, to both the naked eye and anybody who monitors advances statistics, that Kansas is a flawed and vulnerable college basketball team without its shot-blocking future NBA Draft lottery pick in the middle.

I knew it.

You knew it.

Bill Self knew it, too.

So the plan, regardless of what Self or anybody else said publicly, was never for the Jayhawks to get to the Final Four without Joel Embiid because that was always unlikely. The plan, rather, was to just get through the first two games of this NCAA Tournament without Embiid, somehow, and then be at full strength for the Sweet 16.

Stanford, of course, had other plans.

"The game was a struggle from the opening tip," Self said Sunday. And that basically summarizes things, doesn't it? The Jayhawks were terrible inside of the arc and outside of the arc, and they weren't good defensively, either.

The result?

A 60-57 loss in the Round of 32 to a Stanford team that finished 10-8 in the Pac-12, and, just like that, the Jayhawks' season is over -- as is the college career of Andrew Wiggins.

No, Wiggins did not make a formal statement about his future after the game or say much of anything, really; he's a quiet young man who was especially quiet in KU's locker room here at the Scottrade Center, obviously distraught over a performance during which he was neither aggressive nor sharp while going 1 of 6 from the field and finishing with four points. But it should be noted that Wiggins announced in the preseason that he would only spend one year in college, and there's no reason to think his plans have changed considering he's still the projected No. 1 overall pick of June's NBA Draft.

So Wiggins is gone.

And Embiid could be, too.

I talked with the the Cameroonian in the locker room, and he seemed just as upset as Wiggins. Two months ago, Embiid was so dominant for a stretch that the Jayhawks became a title favorite while the 7-footer replaced his teammate on most NBA big boards thanks to an array of post moves and a unique ability to alter shots. Now Embiid was sitting in a chair, head in hands, left to wonder forever what might've been if not for a stress fracture in his back that ended up sidelining him for the final six games of his freshman season.

Would Embiid have played in Thursday's Sweet 16?

I asked him that specifically.

"Yes," Embiid answered before later adding that he wanted to play Sunday, and that he would've played Sunday if only KU's training staff would've allowed it. But they wouldn't. So he watched. And now the Jayhawks will miss the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.

"It was pretty hard watching them lose," Embiid said. "I felt like I could've helped."

He most certainly could've.

Either way, now five-star recruits Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are set to enroll, meaning the Jayhawks will be good again regardless of whether Embiid returns to school. But this will still forever be KU's season of unanswered questions.

What could Cincinnati have done in 2000 with a healthy Kenyon Martin? What could North Carolina have done in 2012 with a healthy Kendall Marshall? Those questions have haunted UC and UNC fans, and now Kansas fans have their own version.

What could Kansas have done in 2014 with a healthy Joel Embiid?

We'll never know for sure.

But what could Kansas do without a healthy Joel Embiid?

For that question, we have an answer ... and the answer is not much .


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
 
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