For Michigan State it is a blessing, but for Kansas, the selection committee’s focus on injury issues could be a burden.
Both teams entered the season with legitimate national title aspirations, and, when healthy, both remain realistic contenders.
For the No. 22 Spartans, who sputtered (due in large part to injuries) over the final third of the season, it should come as a relief that committee chairman Ron Wellman is acutely aware of their situation.
Michigan State hasn’t been healthy for weeks and only recently regained the services of its leading rebounder Branden Dawson. In his nine-game absence after slamming and breaking his hand on a table, the Spartans lost five times. Keep in mind this is a team that was once ranked No. 1.
It’s not as if Michigan State’s other three stars – Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, and Keith Appling – have avoided the injury bug, either. Appling (wrist) has scored in double digits just once since the start of February while Gary Harris has dealt with a nagging back issue.
Sure, they're a little banged up, but Tom Izzo at least has his full squad and the confirmation that the committee will account for the Spartans’ aches.
“I can assure you, in any situation, whether it regards an injury or an overall evaluation of a team, the committee not only looks at the victory or the won-loss record, we look at how the team played, who they played, where they played that particular team,” Wellman said. “So it is a very deep evaluation of a team.”
As for Kansas, its showing at this week’s Big 12 tournament will have massive seeding implications – and not necessarily to the Jayhawks’ benefit. A poor showing, minus Big-12 defensive player of the year Joel Embiid (out for conference tournament, doubtful for NCAA’s first weekend) could force the committee to lower Kansas’ seed, anticipating an Embiid-less squad, rather than a team which features the best interior defender in the country.
“Where that puts the Jayhawks next week, we haven’t even started those discussions yet,” Wellman said.
While Embiid’s status is the most noteworthy, the chairman noted the committee is monitoring all the significant injuries that could impact seeding.
“We will get updates on the injuries,” he said, while noting that the committee has specific people assigned to various conferences to monitor teams’ health. “We will be well aware of the latest information and whether that individual is going to be available to his team during the tournament. It is a discussion point with the committee.”
One other player to keep track of this week is Syracuse F Jerami Grant, who’s been troubled by a recent lower back strain. He played well in the regular season finale against Florida State on Sunday, but the Orange recently lost without him to an underwhelming Georgia Tech team. The 6’8’’ sophomore is an essential cog in Boeheim’s frontcourt.