Injuries to monitor and replacements to consider for March Madness 2021

BY MATT DE SARLE

Nagging injuries and absences still plague the nation’s best college basketball season, despite everyone enduring the virus-plagued season. Here’s a list of the top injuries in college basketball and how replacements are filling some voids. See our top 8 list below.

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  1. Collin Gillespie Suffers MCL Knee Injury, Out for March Madness

This injury update jumped to the number one spot. Collin Gillespie is among the best five point guards in the nation, if not the best. His jump stop into the lane, pivot foot action, is unparalleled by anyone else. And Villanova will now be operating the postseason without him. Villanova was already thin in terms of body count for its normal rotation. A 5-star point guard who was in Villanova’s pipeline and next-up on its bench for one season, Jahvon Quinerly, is now on top ranked Alabama. This injury may demand that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl plays at the Player of the Year level he is capable of. He has POY talents and has had a great season, but he has not been in the discussion with the likes of Luka Garza and Jared Butler at the top of that list. Villanova went limping into the Big Dance on the heels of a Big East Tournament loss to 8 seed Georgetown, so it will definitely need Robinson-Earl to emerge if it still has ambitions for an elite 8.

2. Isaiah Livers Out for 1 Seed Michigan

The term “out indefinitely” can be a fluid situation in college basketball. And so here’s your friendly reminder to Google each specific injury hours before tip off and see where things stand. However, with this important injury, it seems the Wolverines are talking as if the season is over for Isaiah Livers. That’s so unfortunate. What basketball fans can love about Michigan is its mix of veteran program players and newcomers who have had an immediate impact. On the wing, Livers is one of the Wolverines most reliable playmakers and defenders. As the Detroit News reports, he is rehabbing a stress injury to his right foot and is in a walking boot. An obvious player who could and should step up in this absence is sophomore Franz Wagner, someone who has serious NBA aspirations.

3. Jack Nunge’s Season Cut Short for Iowa Hawkeyes

Everyone knows about Luka Garza, but Jack Nunge was quietly having a strong year as an Iowa big man. He offered a true stretch four options and could also spell Garza at the 5 spot. That versatility is sadly gone as Nunge suffered a season ending knee injury in March. Watch for how 6-8 freshman Keegan Murray can respond at the power forward position. He will not start during this roster re-shuffle, but the talented freshman ran the floor well and competed valiantly against bulldog EJ Liddell in a prime matchup against fellow top 10 team Ohio State (early into the adjustment period after Nunge’s loss).

Courtesy: ESPN Networks

4. De’Vion Harmon Tests Positive for COVID-19, Would Miss Oklahoma’s First Two Games

This is about as sad as it gets. Sure, breaking a bone or suffering a serious knee injury must be horrible. But to miss the first two games of a tournament you’ve fought so desperately to enter, on top of that virus stealing your postseason last year, is an inconceivable feeling to imagine. That’s what De’Vion Harmon might be feeling right now. As ESPN reports, De’Vion Harmon tested positive for COVID-19. The Sooners were top 8 or 9 seed earlier this season in the national AP Poll. Now they limp into the NCAA Tournament as an 8/9 seed and without their starting point guard. If you take into consideration Gonzaga would be Oklahoma’s next opponent if it beats Missouri without Harmon, you could make the argument that this is the most important injury of the current tournament.

5. ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright Out for Loyoyla-Chicago Game

Georgia Tech’s leading scorer Moses Wright is also out due to COVID-19 protocols for Georgia Tech in its opening round game against Loyola-Chicago. Loyola-Chicago enters the tournament as a 9 seed, but also ranked as KenPom.com’s ninth best team in the nation. Needless to say, this is a gigantic loss for the Yellow Jackets.

6. Drake Loses Point Guard Amidst Historically Great Season

This one really sucks for college basketball. The Drake Bulldogs were one of college basketball’s early undefeated teams. They and Loyola Chicago both looked like teams that could get at large bids punched for their tickets to the dance. Roman Penn, the Siena transfer and guard guard for Drake, was averaging 5.5 assists to only 2.3 turnovers per game. With just a few games left in the season Drake lost Penn for the season. Guard Joseph Yesufu saw his minutes increase, but responded with 5 assists to his first 10 turnovers in that immediate action. To steal a line from Drake himself, if you are reading this it’s too late for the Bulldogs. The unfortunate truth in college basketball is that taking a point guard away is like taking a starting quarterback away from a football team. Meanwhile, consider how Loyola Chicago might skate more easily in the NCAA Tournament without dueling its in-conference foe for a hard fought championship battle. You can decide (if that happens) whether it helps or hurts the Ramblers get prepped for a Final 4 repeat.

7. Vols Big Man John Fulkerson Catches an Elbow

The Tennessee Volunteers could be without big man John Fulkerson to start the Big Dance. He caught an elbow mid-way through the SEC Tournament and suffered a facial fracture. Like Ayo Dosunmo, maybe we will see him out there with a protective mask around his face. Follow local sites like Knoxnews.com for the latest updates.

8. Fabian White Jr. Clear for Takeoff in Houston?

The Houston Cougars potentially have landed a new addition in the rotation that could rocket them into another stratosphere. Fabian White Jr. is actually one of the most tenured Cougars. And the fact that the power forward (defacto center for this club) is back from an ACL knee injury in February is a game changer. According to The Daily Cougar, White has achieved a heroic effort to expedite his injury recovery in under 12 months. And while he was out, his front court mates really rebounded the ball and defended fantastic in his absence. Houston is a team that can play with great pace, but they have the muscle to hold down a push inside. Watch Fabian White Jr. in March because this is just the beginning of his season with lots of meaning.

Injuries 9 and 10 to Watch: Ankle Injuries Plaguing the Big 10’s Best

Both Big 10 powers Iowa and Michigan are dealing with nagging ankle injuries. Joe Wieskamp of Iowa is day-to-day with an ankle injury and Eli Brooks was nursing an ankle injury as he played in the Big 10 Tournament.

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