Raheem Appleby’s Injury a Huge Blow for Louisiana TechPosted by Adam Stillman on January 16th, 2014
Louisiana Tech’s promising season just came to a screeching halt. The Bulldogs were the Conference USA favorite and held legitimate hopes for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament prior to yesterday. Those goals might appear a bit lofty now after it the school announced on Wednesday that leading scorer Raheem Appleby will miss 6-8 weeks with a severe ankle sprain. The junior guard boasts some impressive numbers, averaging 16.1 points and 2.1 assists per game this season. Appleby hurt his ankle a week ago while driving to the basket during Louisiana Tech’s 84-64 victory against Florida Atlantic, and he missed all of the Bulldogs’ subsequent 85-51 victory on January 11 against Florida International. Now the best-case scenario for the 6’4″ guard appears to be a return for the Conference USA Tournament during the second week of March. This is a really tough blow for a Bulldogs squad aspiring for a long postseason run.
Louisiana Tech still harbors at-large aspirations — even with a #98 RPI — thanks in large part to a resume-enhancing road win on December 30 at Oklahoma. That 102-98 overtime victory looks even more impressive now that the Sooners are ranked #25 in the RPI. The Bulldogs also have another top 100 win against St. Bonaventure (#83 RPI). Louisiana Tech’s losses have come to national title contender Oklahoma State (#11 RPI) in Oklahoma City, at Saint Mary’s (#52 RPI) and Louisiana-Lafayette (#94 RPI). While that last loss doesn’t help, the Bulldogs still have an outside shot at an at-large bid. Should Louisiana Tech exit the C-USA gauntlet nearly unscathed — maybe a loss or two — with a subsequent defeat in the Conference USA Tournament championship, the Bulldogs then present an intriguing argument for a bid.
The loss of Appleby just makes the road there exponentially harder. While the Conference USA slate isn’t nearly as difficult as years past with the departure of Memphis to the American Athletic Conference, the 16-game schedule is still filled with many obstacles. A road game at title contender Southern Miss on January 19 looms large, and games against Charlotte and UAB aren’t to be overlooked with the good wins those teams have pulled off. The onus now falls on players like Alex Hamilton and Jaron Johnson to pick up the slack in the backcourt. Hamilton, a sophomore guard, will assume go-to scoring duties with his 15.0 PPG average. Johnson, a senior guard that averages just 7.0 PPG, chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds in that game against Florida International, both season highs. Chris Anderson, a senior forward who averages 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, will need to increase his production as well.
Without Appleby expected back for nearly two months, Louisiana Tech probably falls from its perch as the C-USA favorite. Southern Miss is now the team to beat, and unless his teammates can pick up Appleby’s slack, an at-large berth is probably out of the equation for the Bulldogs as well. Their best bet is to hope Appleby returns for the conference tournament and helps the players who kept things moving along make a run for the league’s automatic bid.