By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Waiting to play ends for Kansas Friday afternoon. Waiting for their freshman rim protector will take longer.
The Jayhawks, second seeded in the South Regional, begin their quest for NCAA Tournament glory when they take on No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky at 3:10 p.m. Freshman Joel Embiid, selected as the Big 12's defensive player of the year, is sidelined with a stress fracture in his back. KU hopes he returns to action if it advances to the Sweet 16.
"He's not going to play this week," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He's doing really well, but we've told him we were not going to put him on a practice floor until he does really, really well with the rehab," Self said. "That's what the doctors have told us, and that's been the game plan all along. He's not far away from being out there in some form or fashion, but probably not contact at least for a while."
Without the 7-foot Embiid, Kansas will start 6-9 senior Tarik Black. Embiid will miss his fifth consecutive game. The Jayhawks have lost two of their last three games, giving up at least 90 points in each loss.
"It does change (things), because we can make mistakes before and mistakes can be wiped away," Self said. "Now, mistakes turn into layups. And so that's obviously a big difference."
Kansas probably won't have to worry about Eastern Kentucky shooting a lot of layups. They prefer to run an offense that produces bunches of 3-point attempts. The Colonels have 303 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, the third-most in Division I.
Senior guard Glenn Cosey leads Eastern Kentucky in scoring at nearly 19 points a game. He has made multiple three-pointers in 26 games, four or more 11 times, and he set a career high by making 10 of 12 in a win against Eastern Illinois in January.
"We just run plays and make the right pass, and most of the times we're open for threes," Cosey said. "… Most of them are good, open looks. I pull up from anywhere, to be honest. I always joke in practice, I just need an inch (of space) and I'm going to let it go."
3:10 p.m. Friday, St. Louis
No. 2 Kansas (24-9) vs. No. 15 Eastern Kentucky (24-9)
Probable Kansas starters: Andrew Wiggins, 6-8 Fr. F/G; Wayne Selden Jr., 6-5 Fr. G; Naadir Tharpe, 5-11 Jr. G; Perry Ellis, 6-8 Soph. F; Tarik Black, 6-9 Sr. C.
Probable Eastern Kentucky starters: Glenn Cosey, 6-0 Sr. G; Corey Walden, 6-2 Jr. G; Marcus Lewis, 6-4 Sr. G; Tarius Johnson, 6-5 Sr. G; Eric Stutz, 6-8 Jr. F.
Fast breaks: Kansas is making its 43rd NCAA Tournament appearance and its 25th-consecutive NCAA trip. That's the tournament, the longest active streak in the nation. … The last time the Jayhawks were a No. 2 seed was 2012 and they lost to Kentucky in the national championship game. .... Eastern Kentucky ranks second nationally in turnover margin and sixth in steals. However, the Colonels are next-to-last nationally in defensive rebounds and 333rd out of 345 teams in field goal percentage defense. … The Colonels' last NCAA appearance came in 2007 when they lost to North Carolina in the first round. … Eastern Kentucky thrives from the 3-point line (39 percent, 23rd in Division I) and has three players making 40 percent or more from behind the arc.
What's next: The winner of Kansas-Eastern Kentucky plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 7 New Mexico and No. 10 Stanford.