2021 NCAA Tournament News: Kansas in Trouble Without Jalen Wilson
Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Wilson, Kansas Jayhawks
A week after Kansas saw its run in the Big 12 tournament come to an end, the Jayhawks received more bad news for its first-round game of the NCAA Tournament.
According to multiple reports, the Jayhawks will not have leading rebounder Jalen Wilson for at least the opening game against Eastern Washington and possibly longer.
If Wilson, who averages 12 points and 8 rebounds per game, doesn’t play, that will put Kansas down three players. David McCormack and reserve Tristan Enaruna are also out due to COVID-19 protocols.
While McCormack and Enaruna could return later in the tournament, Wilson’s potential return is unknown as the school has yet to address his status.
Two of our college basketball experts have weighed in on what Wilson’s absence means for Kansas not only against Eastern Washington but in the tournament as a whole.
Let’s look ahead at what Wilson’s absence could mean for the Round of 32 and beyond.
The 11-seed play-in has been a springboard more than a few times in this tournament and with Drake potentially getting ShanQuan Hemphill back in the fold, I like the winner of the 11/6 matchup to make a run.
If it turns out to be USC, the Jayhawks would already have been hard-pressed to run away from the Trojans. The Pac-12’s POY, Evan Mobley, is peaking at the right time, which is a scary thought. The future lottery pick just averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Pac-12 tournament and gives USC the kind of offensive stability they need to win multiple games.
I was on the fence about a potential Sweet 16 or Elite 8 run for USC, but Wilson’s absence only strengths my conviction.
Kansas will play Eastern Washington in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament without McCormack (13.4 PPG), Wilson (12.1 PPG), and reserve Tristan Enaruna (2.8 PPG). This is a significant issue against an explosive Eastern Washington offense that ranks 40th in the country with 78 points per game.
The Eagles shoot extraordinarily well, averaging 38.8% from three in their 15 Big Sky conference games. They are a fast-paced team (28th in adjusted tempo per KenPom) that almost won difficult non-conference road games at Arizona and St. Mary’s.
Kansas defends the three well, allowing opponents to shoot just 32.5% from beyond the arc, and ranks 64th in defensive block percentage (KenPom). However, the loss of McCormack’s presence inside and Wilson’s defense on the perimeter will be tested by the relentless Eastern Washington attack.
The Jayhawks offense has also struggled throughout the year, and losing Wilson’s scoring, McCormack’s rebounding, and Enaruna’s depth put even more pressure on Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett to post big point totals.
The Eagles 6-foot-9 forward Tanner Groves (16.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG) now has no matchup and the Jayhawks look very one-dimensional on offense. I grabbed the opening line at Eastern Washington +11 and expect this to be under 10 by tip-off on Saturday afternoon.