Griffin injury won't hurt Sooners in long run

February, 24, 2009
Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said Tuesday that he hopes to have sophomore forward Blake Griffin available for Saturday's game at Texas Tech.

Capel said if it were up to Griffin he would have played against Kansas on Monday night.

"He's getting better, but with head injuries you never know and until he passes the battery of tests to be medically cleared, he won't play," Capel said. "But he was pleading with me all day to play [Monday]."

Even if Griffin isn't cleared to play because of lingering affects from his concussion, the Sooners and Griffin should be fine for the accolades that are sure to follow from the NCAA selection committee and player of the year awards.

Oklahoma's resume with Griffin -- 25-1 with wins over Purdue in overtime in New York, a 18-point win over Mountain West leader Utah, a four-point win over Southern Conference leader Davidson, a one-point win over USC and early-season dominance in the Big 12 -- could still be enough to warrant a No. 1 seed for the Sooners.

Yes, even if Kansas were to win the Big 12. The Jayhawks don't have the same resume, especially in nonconference games with losses to Syracuse, Arizona and Michigan State and a loss to UMass in Kansas City.

"If you look at what we were, before Blake got hurt, we were one of the best teams in the country and poised to be No. 1," Capel said. "This is just a bump in the road. The injury just happened to come at a very bad time for us when we had two games in 48 hours [at Texas and at home against Kansas]. It just so happened we played 60 minutes [Griffin was hurt in the first half at Texas Saturday] without arguably the best player of the year."

Capel said he hasn't paid as much attention to seeding until this season. But he anticipates the committee will look at how the Sooners fared when Griffin was healthy. Capel isn't so sure there should be a question about the Sooners' seeding if they finish strong.

Capel has another point, too. Griffin is and will remain the favorite for national player of the year, even if he didn't play another regular-season game. Griffin's dominance of 22 points and 13-plus rebounds a game was so pronounced it's hard to see anyone wrestling away the award. Griffin put up 40 points and 23 boards in a win over Texas Tech, prior to the loss at Texas.

"Blake will be back. It's not if, it's just when," Capel said. "When he's healthy, we're one of the best teams in the country. Take Tyler Hansbrough off North Carolina, Luke Harangody off Notre Dame, DeJuan Blair off Pitt. Blake has done it all year with double- and triple-teams planned for him."

Kansas coach Bill Self, whom I interviewed for the Wednesday ESPNU College Basketball podcast, concurred that Griffin should be the national player of the year.

Self also said he was fired up Tuesday after the win over the Sooners. He said Tyshawn Taylor played his best game of the season. It showed as Taylor made 3 of 5 3s (deep) for 26 points. Self said when Taylor is the third scorer, behind Sherron Collins (26 pts) and Cole Aldrich (15 pts), then the Jayhawks have a shot to be "really good."

Self said he's not sure he's had a team respond in as hostile a venue as well as this crew did, especially since it was so young.

"It was a fabulous performance in a great atmosphere in that building," Self said. "Our guys really performed at a high level."

• What did the win do to KU's Big 12 title chances? Well, Kansas can control its fate. The Jayhawks play Missouri on Sunday, and finish at Texas Tech and home against Texas. If Kansas wins five-straight Big 12 titles that would be quite remarkable. The fact that KU is trying to secure a top-three seed with this crew is even more impressive.

• What did this win do for Self's candidacy for national coach of the year? Quite a bit when you consider that he lost six of the top seven scorers and returned all but one starter. Self has two players -- Collins and Aldrich -- who were contributors on last season's national championship team.

• What did the win do for Collins? It made him a first-team all-Big 12 candidate if he wasn't already, and a challenger for a top 10 position on the All-American teams. He has scored 22, 22 and 26 points in the last three games. How about this for a winning record: He's 87-13 with two Big 12 regular-season and tournament titles, an Elite Eight appearance and a national title.

• What did Kansas' win do for Missouri? The Tigers beat Kansas in Columbia and can sweep KU with a win in Lawrence on Sunday. Do that and the Tigers can win the Big 12. Missouri plays host to Oklahoma next Wednesday and also hosts Kansas State and finishes at Texas A&M.

• USC is banking that Renardo Sidney will be a force next to North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson in 2009-10, giving the Trojans a tough tandem in the post. If Taj Gibson returns for his senior season, the Trojans would have one of the top frontlines in the country. The question will be whether DeMar DeRozan would return for his sophomore season. He should. He's draftable but not ready to play in the NBA. If he does come back, adding Stepheson and Sidney would make USC a favorite in the Pac-10 (this is based on the assumption that Arizona is going to lose Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger to the NBA, too).

• Former Sacramento Kings and New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus is in the mix for the Arizona gig, according to multiple sources. Theus would be a huge hit. He's not just Hollywood in his appearance. He can recruit and coach and proved it in the college level. But he's not likely first up for Arizona. The Wildcats are likely to look at Gonzaga's Mark Few and Pitt's Jamie Dixon first, although I've had no indication from either camp that they would leave for Arizona. If Arizona could get word of this sooner than later, then moving on someone like Theus, who is available, could save the 2009 recruiting class. Interim coach Russ Pennell is doing a phenomenal job but has said many times he doesn't expect to be retained. Pennell deserves another chance to coach somewhere next season with the job he has done in Tucson.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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