It is late late late late on March 10th, and I maybe have talked myself off the Embiid ledge. In the book Moneyball, A's slugging first baseman Jason Giambi leaves the club after a year in which he posted a .477 on base percentage and hit 38 home runs, finishing second in the MVP race. In going about replacing him, the A's realized they couldn't just go out and grab another first baseman who can hit like that, but perhaps they could go get his most important traits and go about getting them at a reduced price.
Similarly, Kansas isn't replacing Joel Embiid. 1st overall picks don't grow on trees (even if Kansas has another one right there) and 7 foot big men who can score inside at will, protect the rim, and rebound like Embiid can are few and far between. But, I think the Jayhawks can reasonably replace the parts of Embiid's game they most need to and hold down the fort until he is back in action.
I've talked a lot about rim protection and how important it is, and stats back that notion up. Kansas, for all their defensive flaws, has actually been pretty good at protecting the rim. They (via hoop-math) are 38th in FG% allowed at the rim, allowing opponents to shoot 53% at the rim. A lot of that is Embiid of course, but Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor, and even Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis have gotten into the rim protection act.
It's going to put a lot more pressure on the guards to defend, and the rim protection is going to suffer without one of the best shot blockers in the country. But with three talented big men in there, all is not lost.
Speaking of which....
Embiid has a 63% eFG on the year, taking 19.2% of the available shots while on the floor. That's a lot of shots to replace. Fortunately, Tarik Black (67.9% eFG) and Jamari Traylor (73.8% eFG) have very good numbers down low.
Obvious caveats apply: neither guy has taken a ton of shots this year, and while Black has flashed some nice post moves, Traylor's scores mostly come off dump offs, offensive rebounds, and quick one or two dribble drives to the basket. Those are going to be less freely available, but one thing that does make me hopeful is the rapport Black and Traylor have seemingly established while playing together. They've been very effective together in short spurts, and perhaps that will continue in the long run.
Obviously, the main guy this puts pressure on is Perry Ellis. He's been inconsistent this year (I hate that word, but I think it applies) but he still is shooting 54.4% from two (and 50% from three) and is making two-thirds of his attempts at the rim. He can ill afford to have another game where he kind of disappears, but with fewer people clogging the lane around Embiid, maybe things will open up for Perry.
Lastly in this category, fouls. Embiid has drawn a lot of them (6.3 per 40). That's not getting replaced unless they revert to calling fouls for breathing on an opponent. Ellis draws almost 5 fouls per 40, while Black and Traylor are just about at 4 fouls drawn per 40. That said, drawing fouls is the least important of the four factors, so if there's something Kansas can afford to lose, it's that.
Embiid had a 12.7% offensive rebounding rate and 27.1% defensive rebounding rate. Both of those marks led the team. Kansas managed to finish second in the league in defensive rebounding even with Embiid sitting out a few games, but there's no doubt his absence will hurt. Percentage wise, Tarik Black is the best candidate to be a rebounder, while Jamari Traylor has asserted himself on the glass as well. It makes sense, as both are big bodies who probably aren't going to get a lot of balls ripped away from them. Perry Ellis, despite not being as physically imposing, is actually the team's third best rebounder by percentage.
But if Kansas really wants to hit the glass, enter Landen Lucas. He hasn't even played enough minutes to make it onto Kansas's KenPom page, but via Statsheet he has an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.3% (2nd behind Embiid) and a defensive rebounding percentage of 21.3% (2nd behind Embiid). Lucas isn't a very good post defender, but he's shown he can at least body up big men and not be a negative down there, and he has shown the ability to score with a nice hook. Add in his ability to go get it on the glass, and Kansas may in fact be able to at least come close to replacing Embiid's influence on the glass.
Joel Embiid is the best player on the team. He does three very important things for the Jayhawks. But, as outlined above, it is possible to replace the majority of those stats from what Kansas has waiting in the wings, and if they can get to the Sweet 16 without him, and then have Joel Embiid back and healthy, the sky is still the limit.