The biggest conversation in the college basketball world this week has revolved around a busted shoe and what it could mean for the future of one of the sport’s brightest stars.
Duke freshman Zion Williamson suffered a knee injury in the team’s game against North Carolina on Wednesday night and the coverage since has revolved around whether or not he should play again this season. For some, the injury, though not serious (mild knee sprain) is enough of a reason for Zion to sit the rest of the year and not jeopardize any future earnings.
For others, like CBS Sports college basketball analyst Gary Parrish, the “shut it down” crowd is missing several key parts of Williamson’s outlook.
But, lost in the conversation of what the injury means for Zion’s future is what the injury means for Duke right now. So, we caught up with Gary to ask him what effect he thinks the injury will have on a Blue Devils team expected to make a deep run come tournament time.
CBS Local Sports: Zion’s injury has been the talk of the college basketball world this week, but as you said on Time to Schein this week on CBS Sports Network, there’s not much in the way of basketball injuries he could suffer that would jeopardize his future. However, with his current injury, how does that affect the way we view this Duke team if he’s forced to miss extended time or is not at 100 percent?
Gary Parrish: I do think all indications are that he will be back at 100 percent. Obviously, not in time for the Syracuse game, but soon enough. I think we’re talking about a matter of a week or two as opposed to a month or two. That is the good news for Duke. You will still at some point, presumably have the best player in the country back at 100 percent, rocking and rolling before the NCAA Tournament starts. Ultimately, that is all that matters for Duke.
Duke’s goals are big goals. Win a National Championship and go to the Final Four. They are going to be in a position to do that as the most talented team in the country by the time it is time to try to do that.
CBS Local Sports: Now, for the games on the floor this weekend there are three big ones on CBS. It starts in the early afternoon on Saturday with Auburn at Kentucky. The Wildcats have really begun to round into form lately including a big win over then #1 Tennessee last weekend. But, they will be without Reid Travis for the next two weeks. How much of an impact do you expect that injury to have?
Gary Parrish: It is a big issue because Reid Travis is, not just one of their best front court players, but one of their best players in general. But I will say that front court injuries to Kentucky are less of a blow than they would be to any other team in the country. John Calipari is always going to have a five-star big to come off of his bench who probably thinks he should have been playing more minutes than he has been playing this season. John actually referenced that earlier this week.
It’s not insignificant, but the loss of Reid Travis isn’t as significant as it would be for just about every other team in America.
CBS Local Sports: The last meeting between the teams was a 2 point win for UK, in which Auburn had a chance to win at the end. What’s the biggest key this time around for the Tigers to pull out the win in Rupp Arena?
Gary Parrish: The first thing that would need to change, on a very basic level would be to play the game down at Auburn again right? (Laughing). Rupp Arena is a monster. Kentucky has only lost there once this season and it was a game they could have easily won. Auburn is going to be up against it.
As we learned from Tennessee this weekend, going into Rupp Arena, particularly on a weekend is not the easiest thing to do. But Auburn, even if they are unranked in the AP poll, they are still ranked in the Top 25 of all of the respected computer formulas and they have won two straight games. If you’re Bruce Pearl, all you want is to look up at the under four time out and know you have a chance. You go in there with nothing really to lose and everything to gain.
As it pertains to your NCAA Tournament resume, a loss to Kentucky on the road is not going to hurt you one bit. But, a win at Kentucky could help you immensely so it’s almost like a free swing here for Bruce Pearl’s team.
CBS Local Sports: Later in the day, #16 Florida State visits #8 North Carolina. Leonard Hamilton’s squad has won 8 straight while UNC is coming off the big win over Duke. What’s the matchup you’ll be watching for in that game that could decide it come the final whistle?
Gary Parrish: I want to see how Florida State handles Luke Maye because he has been tremendous dating back two seasons now. He was a big factor in that win over Duke and when he gets going it really seems to generate all sorts of things for the rest of that North Carolina roster. This is a sneaky good matchup on paper because, even though North Carolina gets all of the attention, especially coming off a win over Duke, Florida State operates mostly off the national radar. They do so mostly because they aren’t a blue blood basketball program and it’s in a league where it is overshadowed by programs that are.
This is a team on an eight-game winning streak and Leonard Hamilton is doing an awesome job. We don’t talk about them as much we should because they don’t have a future lottery pick on the roster. They don’t have a guy averaging 20 points per game. But, when you are looking for rock-solid basketball teams that have put together really good resumes Florida State is right there at the top of the list.
CBS Local Sports: On Sunday, the battle for Michigan, Michigan vs. Michigan State plays out in Ann Arbor. The Spartans won’t have center Kenny Ward, who is out with a broken hand, how do the Spartans work around that injury to defend a Michigan team featuring Brazdeikis, Teske and Livers in the front court?
Gary Parrish: I don’t think it is something that you can work around. At some point, losing key players, guys who started the season as starters, catches up to you. I think it is catching up to Michigan State right now. Earlier in the week they played Rutgers at home and they won and you might not blink at that. But, if you watched the game, Michigan State was in a fight far longer than it was supposed to be in a home game against Rutgers.
They are without Josh Langford, without Nick Ward, that is 40 percent of the starting lineup they had on opening night. I really do think it has impacted them as a basketball team.
The good news is, even if they don’t get Langford back, they will, presumably, get Ward back at some point. Ward is irreplaceable on that roster. He had the highest usage rate on that team. When you take him out of the front court, it changes them dramatically. Now, you’re on the road against a Top 10 team, playing your rival. And, by the way, they are 16-0 at home this season. This is a bit of a tall task for Michigan State. I would be surprised if they were able to go in there and win the game.