Joel Embiid is the starting center of the Kansas Jayhawks and one of the most talented college basketball players in the country. Unfortunately he suffered a stress fracture in his back and is likely to miss at least the first weekend of the upcoming NCAA tournament. Some think that Kansas is headed for an early round exit while others think that Kansas’s seed should not be affected at all. Can we use analytics, even roughly, to assess the impact on Kansas’ NCAA tournament prospects?
How about looking at win shares? A “win share” is a statistical estimate of the number of team wins that can be attributed to an individual’s performance. According to the amazing Iowa-powered basketball-reference.com, Embiid’s win shares per 40 minutes are an impressive 0.212 (an average player is around .100). HIs primary replacement, Tarik Black, is at 0.169. That’s a difference of 0.042 win shares per 40 minutes. I probably can’t technically do what I am about to do, but who cares. Since Kansas averages 80 points a game, the win share difference is 80 x 0.042 = 3.36 points per game. However, Embiid was only playing around 23 minutes a game, and Black isn’t even getting all of his minutes. Certain other teammates (Wiggins!) may simply play more minutes than usual to compensate. So 3.36 is probably on the high side. If we estimate that Embiid’s presence will be missed for only 20 player-minutes per game, an estimate of 1.68 points per game is probably reasonable. I will use this assumption in my upcoming NCAA Tournament model.
If we look at Kansas’s schedule we see that this difference would possibly only have swayed two games (Oklahoma State and Texas Tech). Embiid’s loss should not affect his team’s seeding any more than it already has by having lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament. Kansas is a solid 2 seed, but Embiid’s loss, if prolonged, could delay a fifteenth Final Four appearance.