Opinion: No need to panic… yet

“[Joel Embiid] may never play in the NCAA Tournament because they may not get out of the first weekend without him.” – Greg Anthony on Tuesday morning.

On Monday night, Kansas fans heard the news they’ve been dreading for a while — Joel Embiid will need to sit out for longer than originally expected.

No need to panic just yet, Kansas fans.

Big 12 Tournament

This week’s Big 12 tournament has now become extremely important for the Jayhawks. But not in a way in a way you probably expected. Kansas has to be in the mindset they won’t have their star big man for at least three Big 12 tournament and two NCAA tournament games.

Winning the tournament isn’t the goal for Bill Self and company right now. The goal is be comfortable with an Embiid-less Kansas team, which after Saturday’s loss at West Virginia is pretty concerning for Self and Co.

KU’s first Big 12 matchup will be either be Texas Tech or Oklahoma State. Tech hasn’t shown anything recently, so expect to see Marcus Smart matchup with the Jayhawks in the Sprint Center at 2 pm on Thursday. If the Jayhawks can get past the Cowboys, the winner of Iowa State and Kansas State awaits them.

A stinker vs. Oklahoma State may be enough for the NCAA tournament committee to drop Kansas to a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. If that happens, it’ll be a devastating blow as it makes that Greg Anthony prediction above that much easier to actually happen. A loss in the semifinals vs. Kansas State or Iowa State wouldn’t be a terrible loss but again, a poor performance can backfire.

Remember: The Big 12 is considered the best league in the NCAA and they may get seven teams in. The NCAA committee will take that into consideration but that’s no excuse to take these Big 12 games lightly.

And let’s face it. The fans will have a hard time swallowing another loss to Marcus Smart and Kansas State fans won’t exactly be pleasant if they knock off the Jayhawks twice in a season.

Bottom line: root for Texas Tech on Wednesday and Iowa State on Thursday morning.

If Kansas can win their way to the Big 12 Championship game, I think the Jayhawks have locked in a No. 2 seed. I actually think the lower half of the bracket is weaker but a team like Oklahoma could pick off a Kansas team, especially considering how tough they’ve played them this year.

In the end, this is a glorified tune-up tournament for the NCAA’s.  Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas need to step up their game because Embiid isn’t guaranteed to come back. Black in particular needs to up his game as he is a senior and he’s shown he can play at a high level, just not consistently. Primarily, Black needs to stay out of foul trouble.

In addition, Naadir Tharpe has to step up as an upper classmen and play flawlessly. His focus is the most important because giving up unforced turnovers is not going to work in an Embiid-less offense and a defense that is missing the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

The player fans should least worry about is Andrew Wiggins, who is playing with confidence right now.

Like I said earlier, it’s not the most important thing in the world to go out and win three games in Kansas City as long as Self feels comfortable with his realigned back court and Tharpe gets it going.

NCAA Tournament

Kansas’ biggest test will be in the NCAA tournament and will likely occur in the second round game. I have no doubt Kansas will be able to dispose of their first round opponent if they’re a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

Remember: Kansas has played well this season without Joel Embiid contributing. They won their game against Duke in the Champions Classic with Embiid scoring two points and only grabbing seven rebounds.

In KU’s loss to Florida, he was held to just six points and six rebounds while he dealt with foul trouble.

And it’s not like Kansas doesn’t know how to play without Joel Embiid. After he misses Thursday’s game, Embiid will have only played in half of KU’s total minutes this year.

But the second round opponent is one that has given KU troubles in the past and could very well likely be able to matchup with KU without Joel Embiid. Depending on how many games KU plays in Kansas City this week, these teams will be able to watch multiple scouting tapes with a Joel Embiid-less offense.

If Kansas can get through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and Joel Embiid can return, that’ll be a huge advantage for Kansas.

Right now, the most likely scenario for KU is a No. 2 seed in the Midwest and heading to St. Louis for the first weekend. Wichita State will probably be that No. 1 in the region and also at St. Louis. They’ll be scouting Kansas, for sure. But that’s where KU has the advantage, as the Shockers will be scouting the Jayhawks without Embiid.

And maybe that’s what sends Kansas to Dallas.