Auburn’s run as a five seed has been one of the more exciting storylines of March Madness. Not many expected them to make it this far, but they earned a spot in the Elite Eight after demolishing pre-tournament favorite North Carolina with a barrage of threes.
Unfortunately, their run is in jeopardy after today’s news. Their star player, Chuma Okeke, suffered a knee injury near the end of their game against UNC. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports that Okeke suffered a torn ACL, and his season is over.
This is a tough blow for both Auburn and Okeke, who posted a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) before going down last night. Auburn may yet be able to pull off another upset against Kentucky, but without their top player, it’s a long shot. Head coach Bruce Pearl gave a very emotional post-game interview after Okeke went down and Auburn still came out with the win, which hinted at the news to come.
Okeke has had a breakout year, and was quickly rising up the draft boards before his injury. He can be an impactful defender and, at 6’8″, was athletic enough to guard almost anyone on the floor. Auburn will miss that athleticism greatly against Kentucky, who will have their usual grouping of blue-chip prospects that are all quality athletes. His injury puts Auburn in a tough spot and might end up costing Okeke himself even more if he declares for the draft; a torn ACL isn’t as serious as, say, Michael Porter Jr.’s back injury, but it will cause him to slide down the board drastically.
Whether he declares or stays at Auburn, everyone is rooting for this young man.