By Brad Thompson–
It’s time to put on your dancing shoes, make those last minute tweaks to your bracket and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef, green beer and what is sure to be a full day of crazy tournament action. Key injuries and suspensions recently make predicting the Final Four and winning your bracket more challenging.
Duke’s NBA-bound point guard has started practicing again, and Georgetown’s floor general has been cleared to play in the tournament. Purdue suspended one of their best defensive players for the remainder of the season, while BYU is still trying to work out the kinks without their suspended big man.
The player that could have the most impact on the tournament is Duke’s Kyrie Irving. After playing in only eight games this season for the Blue Devils, Irving suffered a turf toe injury that has kept him on the bench since. At the time of his injury, albeit early in the season, he was the leading scorer on a team that returned several starters from last year’s national championship squad.
Coach Krzyzewski said there’s a chance Irving could play this weekend. Before he got hurt Duke was the best team in the nation – it was Duke and everyone else. Now the question is how well will Irving mesh with a Blue Devil’s team that has the ability to repeat as tournament champs without him? Irving is an extremely talented and dynamic player, but the insertion of him into the rotation might disrupt the team’s rhythm.
In my eyes, this is a hit or miss situation for Duke. If Irving comes back and plays well, it makes Duke the favorite to win it all. If his return messes up the team’s chemistry, then the Blue Devils might not make it past a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with Texas.
News came out on Tuesday that Purdue has suspended guard Kelsey Barlow for the rest of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. This might seem like a minor setback for the Boilermakers because Barlow wasn’t a starter and only averaged 5.1 points per game and 2.9 rebounds, but he’s a valuable role player and a strong defender. Coach Painter has called him one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten Conference. This alters Purdue’s rotation and with potential matchups versus Georgetown and Notre Dame, the Boilermakers need to be at full strength.
By now everyone’s heard about BYU suspending forward Brandon Davies for violating the university’s honor code. The Cougars have struggled playing without their double-digit scorer, leading rebounder and physical inside presence. The committee rewarded BYU’s 30-4 season with a No. 3 seed, but clearly the Cougars aren’t the same team now as they were with Davies in the lineup. Jimmer Fredette’s amazing scoring ability has captivated the nation. The Cougars will need Fredette to be tremendous for them to advance in the tournament. Even with Fredette scoring, BYU looks prime for an upset without Davies.
The Georgetown Hoyas limped into the tournament, losing their final four games. Playing without their senior point guard Chris Wright was the main reason why. Wright injured his non-shooting wrist against Cincinnati on February 23. He’s officially been cleared to play in the tournament. He’s the Hoyas’ assist leader and second leading scorer. If Wright returns and plays like he’s capable, Georgetown will have one of the better backcourts in the country and we all know how coveted guard play is in the tournament.
The final injury that looms large in the tournament happened to D.J. Kennedy of St. John’s. He suffered a torn ACL in the Red Storm’s loss to Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, which means St. John’s hasn’t played a game without him this season. Kennedy was a versatile, do-everything kind of player for the Red Storm. He scored in double figures and lead the team in rebounding, while doing so many other little things to help the team win. It’s hard to replace a player like Kennedy, but extremely difficult right before the tournament. St. John’s first round matchup versus upset-minded Gonzaga will be a tough test for the higher seeded Red Storm without Kennedy.
Officially the tournament has already tipped off with UNC-Asheville and Clemson winning games Tuesday night and two more games on Wednesday night, but it’s not too late to make critical changes to your bracket. Consider these recent developments and how they could impact the tournament, particularly in the mid to late rounds when even the slightest weakness is exploited.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.