Weekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering March

Weekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering March

Sure, the best team might win it all in March. But perhaps the healthiest squad might have the edge when it’s time to cut down the nets.

The past month of college basketball has been full of injuries that have impacted the depth charts of America’s top teams. The effect of some of the developments is obvious. Others may not be as clear on the surface, but the metrics suggest they could have an impact on their respective teams’ Final Four hopes if they linger in the weeks ahead.

Auburn’s Jaylin Williams missed a game due to a knee injury, but returned for Wednesday’s loss at Tennessee. Duke’s Caleb Foster suffered an ankle injury during his team’s loss at Wake Forest and missed Wednesday’s win over Louisville. Foster is expected to return, but the timetable of a possible comeback for other key players has been more uncertain.

Langston Love (11.1 PPG, 49% 3-pt) was playing some of his best basketball of the season for Baylor when a leg injury derailed his season and forced him to miss most of February’s slate and possibly beyond. Tre Mitchell, Kentucky’s leading rebounder, has missed six of the past seven games with a shoulder injury. Joshua Jefferson (10.2 PPG) has missed multiple games for Saint Mary’s with a knee injury.

And earlier this week, Bill Self said Kansas is not “counting on” the return of Kevin McCullar Jr., a potential All-American and projected first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft.

That’s all bad news at the worst possible time for these teams that hope to make noise in the NCAA tournament. It’s also the unfortunate reality of a lengthy season. Sometimes the team that avoids the injury bug carries that luck into the postseason.

The possible returns of those key players — or their ongoing absences — could change everything in March.

Odds provided by ESPN BET.

Weekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering MarchWeekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering March

Friday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Drew Valentine was just 29 years old when he accepted the Loyola Chicago job following Porter Moser’s departure for Oklahoma nearly three years ago. He won 25 games during the 2021-22 season, his first as a head coach, and led the team to the NCAA tournament. But four of the five starters from that squad graduated. A year later, he won just 10 games, and critics wondered if he’d inherited a job he couldn’t handle. This season, Valentine is proving he was the right pick. He has his Loyola squad at the top of the standings with a chance to win the Atlantic 10 championship in just its second year in the league. But the Ramblers will have to power through Dayton to achieve that goal. DaRon Holmes II (20.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 37% from the 3-point line) and the Flyers have lost just three games since Nov. 19.

Medcalf’s pick: Dayton, 75-70; Against the spread: Dayton (-1.5)

Weekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering MarchWeekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering March

Saturday, 1 p.m. ET ABC

There are questions these two teams must answer in order to reach their ceiling as March approaches. For Baylor, this is the mystery: Where is the real RayJ Dennis? The Toledo transfer and former MAC Player of the Year, is shooting just 33% from the 3-point line in conference play. He’s also 2-for-12 from beyond the arc with 15 turnovers in Baylor’s past three games. Yves Missi and Ja’Kobe Walter are playing like the projected first-round picks they are, per reputable mock drafts, but the Bears need Dennis to get back to an elite level.

Meanwhile, Kansas has been unable to create any consistent, commendable offense from its half-court sets without McCullar. Johnny Furphy, the 6-foot-9 Australian who is suddenly rising on mock draft boards, is probably the team’s most capable scorer without McCullar, and Bill Self’s squad needs a boost with the potential All-American sidelined, perhaps for the rest of the season. The Big 12 is a two-team race between Houston and Iowa State, but Baylor and Kansas are trying to figure out who they are before the postseason arrives.

Medcalf’s pick: Baylor, 77-74; Against the spread: Kansas (+4.5)

Weekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering MarchWeekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering March

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, FOX

In the two games prior to Wednesday’s 91-69 win over Providence — victories over DePaul and Xavier — Tyler Kolek recorded 28 assists and three turnovers. The Golden Eagles are a more fluid team when the potential All-American and NBA prospect is both a potent scorer and effective distributor. Marquette is 12-1 when Kolek finishes with at least eight assists in a game this season. He has averaged 5.6 APG and 2.8 turnovers per game in Marquette’s six losses. In his team’s lopsided loss at UConn last Saturday, he finished with three assists and four turnovers. It’s no secret whom Creighton will attempt to stall in this matchup … but only if Kolek is available. He left Wednesday’s game with an oblique injury. If he can’t go, everything changes. Even a fully healthy team would have a challenge with this Creighton squad.

Ryan Kalkbrenner (17.1 PPG, 2.9 BPG) has been a force on both ends of the floor for Creighton. But the Bluejays, who take 3-pointers on nearly half of their field goal attempts, can get disrupted by their volume shooting. After a big win over UConn last week, they shot 6-for-26 from beyond the arc in a 14-point road loss to St. John’s on Sunday. Then, that same group hit 41% of its 3-point attempts in a Wednesday victory over Seton Hall. Kolek or not, Marquette will have its hands full with this Creighton squad.

Medcalf’s pick: Creighton, 86-80; Against the spread: Creighton (-4.5)

Weekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering MarchWeekend preview: Impact of injuries being felt entering March

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Skill, talent, defensive prowess and shooting ability all impact a team’s potential throughout the season. But the schedule matters, too. Tennessee and Alabama are tied for first place in the SEC, so the winner of this game will have the advantage in the conference race. The league’s slate, however, could determine who wins the regular-season crown. After this game, the Vols will travel to play South Carolina — the same South Carolina that beat them in Knoxville earlier this season — and then host a Kentucky team with a bunch of future pros in the season finale. Alabama will play at Florida and finish with a home game against Arkansas (125th in the NET rankings). Tennessee is 7-1 in its past eight games, but only two of the wins came against a top-25 KenPom squad. Alabama surrendered 117 points in a loss at Kentucky last Saturday, but the Crimson Tide are still ranked first in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Medcalf’s pick: Alabama, 79-77; Against the spread: Tennessee (+2.5)


Medcalf’s picks straight up: 35-24

Against the spread: 30-29

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