As Auburn was streaking to a double-digit lead over No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Midwest Regional semifinals, Tigers forward Chuma Okeke collapsed to the ground after going up for a rebound. The crowd went silent as he writhed on the floor in pain.
He leads all scorers with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. He also notched a double-double by grabbing 11 rebounds. The No. 5 seeded Tigers led by 13 at the time, and pulled away for a 97-80 victory. He walked off the court with the assistance of medical personnel.
Sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl stated that Okeke will not return to the Sweet 16 matchup, as he suffered a “severe knee injury.”
Jared Harper said to Erdahl afterward that the team was motivated to win for Okeke. Pearl teared up in the ensuing interview, saying that he was going to hug his forward in the locker room. He acknowledged that he feels Okeke is seriously hurt.
Auburn will face the winner of Houston-Kentucky in the other Midwest semifinal, which will take place later tonight in Kansas City.
While the Tigers are in their first Elite 8 since 1986, Chuma’s absence could be a major blow to their Final Four chances. The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder has moonlighted at center, averaging 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds while out of position.
He’s versatile slasher with a wide frame, while also presenting 3-point touch (38 percent) and defensive acumen (1.2 block and 1.8 steals per contest). This level of production has led some to believe he’s a potential NBA Draft pick this summer.
Bryan Kalbrosky of Hoops Hype features him at No. 37 overall on his aggregate mock draft.
NBA Draft Net sends Okeke to the Brooklyn Nets with the No. 27 pick. He’s listed as a small/power forward hybrid and would pair well with the recently-acquired Jarrett Allen.
NBA Scouting Live projects him as a second-rounder in its scouting report.
Chuma Okeke is an athletic, combination forward that has a variety of skills that could prove to be useful to a team at the next level. He can shoot and score the basketball, and he can also finish plays above the rim. Right now, he may be a second round prospect for the upcoming draft.
He has not declared one way or the other about leaving early for the NBA. Time will tell if this injury is severe enough to affect his decision.