Why Hunter Dickinson, Kevin McCullar missing the Big 12 Tournament could be beneficial down the stretch

Although the Jayhawks will be down their two best players, resting them will give them time to recover for March Madness.

Jan 22, 2024; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self gestures to his players during a game against Cincinnati
Jan 22, 2024; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self gestures to his players during a game against Cincinnati / Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
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Very few Kansas basketball teams under Bill Self have entered a conference tournament with absolutely no momentum, but that is the reality when the Jayhawks face off against Cincinnati tonight to open the Big 12 Tournament.

Star players and All-Big 12 First Team honorees Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar will not appear in the contest tonight, nor will they tomorrow if KU advances to the next round. Head coach Bill Self announced the team would rest the conference's two leading scorers as they recover from their respective injuries.

Dickinson dislocated his shoulder in the regular season finale on Saturday, which raised the question of whether he would play again this year. McCullar has also attempted to come back from a bone bruise in his knee multiple times, most recently at Houston, and had to sit out the second half of the game. However, Coach Self said he expects both players back by the Round of 64 next week.

While fans might be frustrated with the recurring injuries on the Kansas basketball team, the ultimate goal is to win games come March Madness. The conference tournament serves very little purpose for a team in KU's position this year. According to Self, "[The team] should be the most healthy [they've] been in a long time when the NCAA Tournament starts," which is something that should excite the Jayhawk faithful.

As it stands right now, KU's position in Joe Lunardi's most recent edition of bracketology — which was updated at midnight today — is the third No. 4 seed in the tournament. If Kansas wins today, they should solidify their position as a four-seed. If Kansas loses today, they might drop to a No. 5 seed. Regardless, the Jayhawks will encounter an automatically qualified mid-major in the first round.

When Josh Jackson was suspended and missed the Big 12 Tournament opener during the 2016-17 season, TCU upset Kansas. They still procured the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region. While conference tourneys are great for bragging rights, that is not a point of concern for a team that is in the midst of its worst season in several decades. A loss will not plummet KU in the rankings, especially in a game they are entering as underdogs — the Jayhawks will still have wins over teams like UConn, Houston, and Tennessee on their resume.

With Dickinson and McCullar being out tonight, bench players Nick Timberlake and Elmarko Jackson will see extended roles and could potentially gain confidence with a solid outing. Worst comes to worst, the Jayhawks lose and have a long rest ahead of them with their two best players set to rejoin the team next week.

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