Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Injury Bug Crashes Down On College Hoops

Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is one of several players bitten by the injury bug this season. (

The injury bug is a fickle creature that comes and goes, leaving questions and holes in college basketball programs across the country. This week in particular has been rampant with injuries for some big-name players trying to lead their teams to conference titles as league play begins.

While no injury is a good injury, some teams have been lucky to have players only suffer minor setbacks. Florida's Erik Murphy won't play tonight due to fractured ribs, but should only be gone two weeks. Louisville's Chane Behanan will also be sidelined tonight with an ankle sprain that could keep him out up to 10 days. Both players are valued in their programs -- Murphy is the team's second leading scorer while Behanan has averaged 11.4 ppg and 7.1 rebound -- but they should be fine for the long-term race to the NCAA Tournament.

Other teams may not be so lucky. Lehigh's C.J. McCollum broke a bone in his foot and is out eight to 10 weeks. Laurence Bowers of Missouri left Tuesday's game with what could be a MCL sprain. This is more concerning to Tiger fans because Bowers spent all last year in street clothes recovering from a torn ACL in his other knee. Duke also failed to make it out of Tuesday's contest unscathed with forward Ryan Kelly injuring his right foot. As of this post's publication it's still unsure how significant these last two injuries are.

These are well-known names for college hoops fans and large contributors to their teams. All three of the could-be major injuries are important losses, but here's a breakdown of the order in which the teams are hurting most from its players being injured.

Lehigh - This Is My Nightmare
The injury to C.J. McCollum is by far the worst of the three injuries in terms of the impact on his team. This is partly because McCollum is one of the best players in the country. He's the second leading scorer in the nation at 23.9 ppg, while also ranking second on the team in rebounds (five) and assists (2.9). The Mountain Hawks also don't have the luxury of employing a group of highly-rated players to fill the void like Kentucky could. Gabe Knutson (15.7 ppg) will have to step up big for the Mountain Hawks in McCollum's absence. Plus, Bucknell (13-3) is giving Lehigh (10-4) a run for its money in the Patriot League, where the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament is huge. There's no certainty the field will have room for Lehigh if they don't win the league without McCollum.

Missouri - Oh Please Not Again
The Tigers have seen this story before, and aren't ready to relive it. Phil Pressey is getting all the national hype, but Laurence Bowers is the cog that keeps this team together. Not only does he lead the team in scoring (16.8 ppg), but with a large group of transfers making up this team's identity, Bowers provides that senior leadership to get everyone working together. Missouri has enough talent that his absence won't be as monumental as McCollum, but Tiger fans would much rather see Bowers on the court. If he is out for a significant amount of time, this will be the true test to see how good Alex Oriakhi (10.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg) can be.

Duke - Looks Like A Stinger, Could Feel Worse
An everyday national fan will see the injury to Ryan Kelly and say, "At least it's not Mason Plumlee." This is true, and there's no question that an injury to Plumlee, a National Player of the Year candidate, would be much worse. Yet Kelly provides an important role within this starting lineup that will be missed, which ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla articulated on Twitter Wednesday:
Duke has a ton of talent on this team, but the little things like interior passing and key 3-pointers could be out of whack until Kelly returns.

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