The Midwest Region is host to several marquee programs with the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats poised at the top. While it’s hard to imagine the top ranked team in the nation being even more formidable, Coach John Calipari’s team has had its share of injuries. Junior forward Alex Poythress tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in mid-December and was lost for the season. Freshman guard Tyler Ulis missed time with an undisclosed injury to his right leg and Devin Booker missed a game nursing an ankle injury. However all these injuries, including Poythress’, occurred early in the season and have not effected Calipari’s rotation. The Wildcats remain the team to beat in the region and the biggest threat to win the NCAA championship.
Another program of pedigree sits in the number two spot with the Kansas Jayhawks. However a sprained knee cost Perry Ellis, the team’s leading scorer, two late season games. The injury appeared to still be an issue as Ellis struggled in his first two outings back. He shot a combined 6-for-21 in the team’s final two games of the Big 12 tournament, including a 2-for-10 performance against Iowa State. Freshman Devonte Graham missed time with turf toe but has been a regular part of the rotation since his return. Still, Kansas’ success will hinge on the health of Ellis and that’s far from guaranteed at the moment.
Maryland senior Dez Wells has looked fine after missing seven games with a fractured wrist. Wells was leading the team in scoring before the injury and finished the season second on the squad, just behind freshman Melo Trimble. Wells’ injury will be non-factor entering tournament play.
The no. 5 seed Mountaineers limp into the tournament with two major injuries looming. Juwan Staten and Gary Browne are both recovering from lower extremity injuries that sidelined them for the entire Big 12 tournament. Staten missed four straight games with a left knee injury and Browne missed three with a high ankle sprain. Both players hope to return to face the healthy Buffalo Bulls but West Virginia’s full-court press will test both players’ injuries.
Butler’s biggest injury of the season wasn’t to a player but instead the head coach. Second-year coach Brandon Miller took a sudden leave of absence for an undisclosed medial problem in October before taking a medical leave in January. Chris Holtmann took over as coach and led the team to 22-10 record. The team did have one injury of note, a broken hand for forward Andrew Chrabascz. Chrabascz missed four games in February but returned in time to take part in the Big East Tournament.
Like Butler, the Cincinnati Bearcats had problems with their head coach’s health. Mick Cronin was forced to assume an advisory role with the team after doctor’s discovered a non-life threatening brain aneurysm. However the top eight players in the Bearcats’ rotation have avoided injury, with all eight playing in all 32 games.
Wichita State will look to improve on last season’s success and will lean heavily on their backcourt. A minor thumb and finger injury for senior guard Teleke Cotton happened early in the season and hasn’t been a problem over the last few months.
Standing in the Shocker’s way is the Hoosiers from Indiana. The Tom Crean-led team has surprisingly succeeded despite multiple off-the-court distractions. Several players were suspended for alcohol related incidents, including one that resulted in forward Devin Davis being struck by a teammate’s car. Davis suffered a significant head injury that ended his season.
Indiana also played without junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea for multiple stretches during the season due to a troublesome kneecap. The reason for the team’s success is partially attributed to big wins without Mosquera-Perea, including 89-70 rout of Maryland. The big man hopes to play Friday after aggravating the injury but he will likely do so with a large, cumbersome brace around his suspect knee.
Purdue’s biggest injury occurred to freshman Jacquil Taylor, whose season ended after he developed a stress reaction in his tibia just five games into the season. The team remains healthy otherwise with Vince Edwards showing no lingering symptoms from his concussion in late February.
Texas lost sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor for a 10-game stretch early in the season. The fractured wrist appears to be fine as Taylor finished the regular season leading the team in both points and assists. Head injuries for Jonathan Holmes and Javan Felix also cost the Longhorns a few games but Texas is healthy and now and primed for an upset.
Valparaiso claimed their second NCAA bid in three years without the services of starting shooting guard Tevonn Walker. Walker suffered a knee injury in the team’s first game of the Horizon League tournament and has played sparingly since. Injuries have been a reoccurring issue for the Crusaders who lost starting point guard Lexus Williams to a torn ACL in August only to see his replacement, Keith Carter, dislocate his big toe. The injury cost Carter 10 games and his production since returning is down. The fact that Valparaiso is still playing is even more impressive when offseason hip surgery for E. Victor Nickerson and a recent nasal injury for Darien Walker are considered as well.
New Mexico State’s season turned around when two injured players returned to the lineup. The Aggies won 18 of their last 19 games, including 13 straight when Daniel Mullings returned from a fractured finger. Mullings return coincided with the return of big man Tshilidzi Nephawe who missed 12 straight with a nagging bone injury in his foot. Now healthy, the team will look to continue their winning ways against the Jayhawks.
Hampton would be the underdog against Kentucky regardless of health but ankle injuries to both Dwight Meikle and Quinton Chievous will only complicate things. Meikle has missed four straight outings with a high ankle sprain and Chievous left the team’s win over Manhattan with a right ankle sprain. Both are question marks moving forward.
The Northeastern and Notre Dame matchup provides a chance for two healthy teams to square off. Both squads avoided any major injuries though Notre Dame reserve V.J. Beachem did miss time with plantar fasciitis.