If you’re a sports fan there’s one thing you hate to see. It’s player injuries, even to rival teams. Friday the Virginia Cavaliers and North Carolina Tar Heels got dreaded news. Significant contributors to their basketball teams suffered major injuries. Virginia’s starting center Assane Sene is projected to miss 6 weeks with a fractured right ankle. North Carolina’s Dexter Strickland will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. North Carolina was a considered to be talented enough to challenge for a national title. Virginia might have had their best team in nearly 20 years. Can one or both teams absorb the loss? Which injury was bigger?
I asked this question on twitter, and as expected the answers were split pretty evenly between Virginia fans and North Carolina fans. Let’s start with Sene…
Sene’s injury is not a season ender, which may make it seem the less severe, but consider this. Sene was the Cavaliers best interior defender and while not a prolific scorer provided an inside presence that will be difficult to replace. The Cavaliers were not a deep team even before the injury, and the loss of Sene reduces Virginia to eight scholarship players. Umm… not good. The Cavaliers are the ACC’s best defensive team and this is a huge blow to a team that looked like it could make a run at a sweet 16. 6-8 Akil Mitchell who is more than 3 inches shorter than Sene will be expected to pick up the slack. The Cavs just became dangerously thin in the post. What about Strickland?
Despite a wealth of talent, the Tar Heels have been an inconsistent team that at times lost focus defensively in particular. Now the Heels will be without their starting 2 guard in Strickland. Strickland was the team’s best perimeter defender and one of the primary ball handlers. He was arguably North Carolina’s most steady player. Sophomore Reggie Bullock will likely move into Strickland’s spot. Bullock is a better perimeter shooter, but isn’t the ball handler or defender that Strickland is. Starting PG Kendal Marshall will now need to log huge minutes. If he gets in foul trouble the Heels will have an extremely inexperienced backcourt. We’ll all know in March it’s about your guards.
I’ve went back and forth on this, but I believe the loss is bigger for Virginia. The Cavaliers simply don’t have any frontline depth. I know Sene should make it back before the season is over, but honestly how much will you get from a player that was out for 6 weeks? I expect it would take a couple of weeks to really work Sene comfortably back into the lineup. That puts the Cavaliers out to the second week of the NCAA tournament.
I’m not minimizing Strickland’s injury at all, but the Heels are deeper and more equipped to handle their injury issues. Bullock is a talented player that can ease himself into starting lineup, as the Heels sheer talent will overwhelm most ACC opponents. On the other hand the Cavs are a Mike Scott tweaked knee from being a 2nd division ACC team.