For the sixth straight game the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks will miss freshman center phenom Joel Embiid as the team prepares for its third-round matchup against upset-minded No. 10 Stanford in Sunday’s South Region matchup.
The seven-foot Embiid leads Kansas with 8.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, but has missed the last five games with a back injury and won’t play against the Cardinal, according to a report from ESPN. Embiid’s status for the Sweet 16, should Kansas advance, is also still in doubt.
Embiid's absence could also put more pressure on freshman Andrew Wiggins, who’s already Kansas’s primary scorer. Wiggins was also second on the team in blocks behind Embiid with 32, and first in steals with 40.
The Jayhawks (25-9, 14-4) were able to silence Eastern Kentucky in a 80-69 second round victory behind 19 points from Wiggins and sophomore forward Jamari Traylor coming off the bench for 17 points and 14 rebounds.
However, getting past Stanford (22-12, 10-8) could prove much more difficult. Powered by junior guard Chasson Randle’s 18.9 points per game, the Cardinal beat ranked opponents three times this season and played Pac-12 rival and No. 1 Arizona tight in both matchups.
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Seeking its fifth trip to the Sweet 16 in school history, Stanford already pulled off one upset by hitting its free throws down stretch in Thursday’s second round 58-53 win over No. 7 New Mexico.
Randle scored 23 points and guard Anthony Brown chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds, but what’s troublesome is the Cardinal should have won by more. The clutch free-throw shooting made up for Stanford blowing a 16-point lead.
Embiid in the lineup would have given Kansas a huge size and likely decisive advantage, but head coach Bill Self will have to tinker with his lineup to figure out who will guard a Stanford frontline with plenty of depth behind junior forward Dwight Powell.
The Canadian-born Powell is second on the team with 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds this season, followed by senior forward-center John Gage and junior Elliot Bullock, with all measuring 6-foot-10.
In terms of height the next up for Kansas is little used freshman Lucas Landen at 6-foot-10, leaving Traylor and Perry Ellis to man the front court. Ellis is second on the team with 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, and has come up with 20 blocks and 29 steals this season.
The winner will face either Syracuse or Dayton in the Sweet 16 next week.
Time: Sunday, 12:15 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS
Online Stream Info: A live online stream can be viewed at NCAA March Madness Live here.
Prediction: Kansas 75, Stanford 72