From ailing Jayhawks to injured Eagles, health could help to decide this year’s NCAA Tournament

Kansas's Hunter Dickinson, right, is helped after being injured during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Houston. Houston won 76-46. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kansas’s Hunter Dickinson, right, is helped after being injured during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Houston. Houston won 76-46. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Bill Self was downright curious to see what Kansas would look like in the Big 12 Tournament when injuries to Hunter Dickinson and fellow All-American candidate Kevin McCullar Jr. ruled them out for the games in Kansas City.

Turned out to be game — singular — because the undersized, depth-challenged Jayhawks were blown out by 20 by Cincinnati before they could even unpack their bags. And as curious as Self might have been last week, the game underscored just how little he wants to put a team on the floor without Dickinson and McCullar for the NCAA Tournament this week.

“Gosh dang it, if we can get whole we can play with anybody. We’ve proven that,” said Self, whose team is seeded fourth in the Midwest Region and stuck with a tough opening game against No. 13 seed Samford on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Problem is the Jayhawks have not been healthy in a while. While the shoulder injury that sidelined Dickinson occurred just over a week ago in a 30-point loss to Houston, the knee injury that benched McCullar has been lingering for weeks.

The 7-foot Dickinson did some non-contact work over the weekend, and Self expected to put in a full practice Monday and be ready for the NCAA tourney. He also was optimistic — though far from certain — that McCullar would be able to play.

“The entire game plan on (McCullar) was hopefully on Monday he can be good to go and if he’s not good to go, then he won’t be, and then we’ll hope on Tuesday. But I don’t know as much about Kevin as I do Hunt,” Self said. “When we get Hunter back, I think he automatically gives you confidence. He’s different that way, and he’ll give us more this time of year than ever.”

The Jayhawks aren’t the only team fretting their health, though. Whether it’s top-seeded teams such as Purdue and Houston or bubble teams such as Colorado and Northwestern, many of their NCAA tourney hopes could rest with the training room.

NO. 1 SEED SITUATIONS

Houston lost Terrance Arceneaux to a torn Achilles tendon in December, Ramon Walker Jr. to a torn meniscus in February and Joseph Tugler to a broken bone in his foot a week later. So, the Cougars’ front line already was thin even before J’Wan Roberts hurt his right leg in their Big 12 semifinal win over Texas Tech. Roberts started the title game against Iowa State but did not play in the second half, when the Cougars were clobbered 69-41 on Saturday night.

Purdue, which like Houston earned a No. 1 seed, will be closely monitoring the calf of All-Big Ten guard Braden Smith. He hurt it in a conference quarterfinal win over Michigan State but did not appear too bothered by it in a semifinal loss to Wisconsin.

“He’s a tough guy,” said Zach Edey, the Boilermakers’ all-everything center. “I’ve never questioned if he’s going to play, if he’s going to be fine. In high school, he played like, half a season with a broken foot. He can go through pain. I have trust in him.”

MARQUETTE’S MISERY

Tyler Kolek has missed six straight games for Marquette, seeded second in the South Region, since the All-American guard hurt his oblique against Providence on Feb. 28. That includes all three games the Golden Eagles played in the Big East tourney.

“The plan is for him to play,” said Marquette coach Shaka Smart, whose team faces No. 15 seed Western Kentucky on Friday in Indianapolis, “but he’s got to go through a progression this week.”

The Golden Eagles also will be monitoring the status of big man Oso Ighodaro, who did not play down the stretch against UConn in the Big East title game after banging his left knee, and guard Stevie Mitchell, who has played through a shoulder injury.

BIG 12 BUMMING

Texas Tech, seeded sixth in the South, has been without 7-foot center Warren Washington for a month because of a foot injury, while Darrion Williams hurt his ankle in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tourney against BYU. Williams tried warming before the semifinals but did not play in the lopsided loss to Houston.

Meanwhile, BYU forward Aly Khalifa hurt his ankle in the second half of its loss to the Red Raiders. The Cougars, seeded sixth in the East, already had been without Mark Adams Jr. and Dawson Baker for most of the season because of injuries.

OTHER INJURY OUTLOOKS

Colorado will play Boise State in a First Four game Tuesday night unsure of the status of guard Julian Hammond III (knee) and forward Cody Williams (ankle). The winner of that game will play No. 7 seed Florida, which lost Micah Handlogten to a broken leg in the opening minutes of the Gators’ SEC final loss to Auburn on Sunday.

Ninth-seeded Northwestern, missing guard Ty Berry after a season-ending meniscus tear, hopes Matthew Nicholson is available against No. 8 seed FAU on Friday in New York. The center has been dealing with a foot injury the past two weeks.

Nevada was waylaid by the flu bug ahead of the Mountain West Tournament last week — Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford guessed five or six players had it. They are all healthy, though guard Hunter McIntosh remains iffy with a knee injury.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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