Key injuries having big impact
Teams are struggling with injury bug coming down the stretch
The Associated Press
Injuries have changed the landscape of college basketball as players sitting on the bench in street clothes have had as big of an impact as players on the court.
Teams like Purdue or Virginia Tech have lost valuable scorers to injuries, putting even more burden on top players. Injuries can also do more than just deplete depth, they can completely change the way teams play the game -- as they have for reigning national champion Duke.
Here’s a look at six injuries -- or in some cases, sets of injuries -- that have had the biggest impact on college basketball this season.
Kyrie Irving, Duke
At first glance, it seemed Irving had merely tweaked an ankle or had a cramp when he came up limping late in Duke’s eighth game. Days later, coach Mike Krzyzewski said the star freshman point guard was out indefinitely -- and maybe the season -- with an injured right big toe. Irving averaged 17 points, but more importantly, was the trigger of the Blue Devils up-tempo offense and transition game. High-scoring Nolan Smith, who played off the ball with Irving in the lineup, has filled in admirably. Doctors are set to remove Irving’s cast Friday, but Krzyzewski has said he’s focused on Irving’s long-term recovery and hasn’t sounded overly optimistic about his return. “We need to … keep working at being the team we are now,” he said Monday, “and not the team we started the year with.”
Robbie Hummel, Purdue
The Boilermakers reached No. 3 last season before the 6-foot-8 forward who was the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder suffered a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. His return figured to make Matt Painter’s squad a Final Four contender, but he never made it back. In the first preseason practice, the senior landed awkwardly when he went for a block and heard a familiar pop as the same knee gave out again. While Purdue is No. 11 behind JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, it’s hard not to wonder what could’ve been with Hummel back in the lineup for a team that still reached last season’s NCAA round of 16 without him.
Abdul Gaddy, Washington
The point guard ranked No. 2 in his class behind John Wall was showing improvement for the 20th-ranked Huskies after a disappointing freshman season. But he suffered a torn left ACL in practice during a January scrimmage after staring the first 13 games. The 6-foot-3 sophomore was averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 assists while showing improved command of the offense. Coach Lorenzo Romar felt he had enough depth with leading scorer Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton, but Gaddy was “probably the best at just settling us down and getting us in the offense.”
Al Nolen, Minnesota
The senior guard went down with a broken right foot against Michigan on Jan. 22, an injury that required surgery to place a pin in the foot. That further depleted the backcourt depth for a team that lost key reserve Devoe Joseph (transfer) in early January. Worse, Nolen provided vocal leadership with 67 career starts and was the top perimeter defender for a team that has struggled to defend against the 3-point shot. That means more ball-handling duties for top scorer Blake Hoffarber, who already averages about 34 minutes per game. Nolen hopes to be back for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments for the No. 18 Gophers; coach Tubby Smith has said it would be at least four weeks. “That’s a real blow to us,” Smith said.
Dorenzo Hudson, J.T. Thompson and Allan Chaney, Virginia Tech
The Hokies were picked to finish second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they’ve had trouble staying healthy. It started when Thompson, a senior sixth man, tore his left ACL in preseason. Chaney has yet to play after transferring from Florida and is out indefinitely as he recovers from a viral infection in his heart. Then Hudson -- a two-year starting guard who averaged about 15 points last year -- played just nine games before having season-ending surgery on a foot injury. That leaves a lot of pressure on Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen as the Hokies try to fight their way out of the jumbled middle of the ACC standings.
Maurice Creek and Christian Watford, Indiana
Coach Tom Crean’s rebuilding effort in Bloomington has taken a major hit with injuries to his cornerstone sophomores. First Creek -- a 6-foot-5 guard -- was sidelined last month with a stress fracture in his right kneecap that required season-ending surgery. Creek was still playing his way back into shape after fracturing his left kneecap last season, which ending a promising debut in which he had averaged 16 points through 12 games. Then, on Tuesday, Crean said Watford -- a 6-foot-9 forward averaging a team-best 17 points and 5.8 rebounds -- was out indefinitely after having surgery on a broken left hand. “We just move, we move forward,” Crean said, “there’s no way around it.”