Wichita State center Ehimen Orukpe’s right ankle isn’t fully healed. A slight limp won’t keep him from trying to play Thursday at Tennessee when No. 23 Wichita State attempts to win its 10th straight game.
Orukpe has missed three games since spraining the ankle late in a win over Iowa on Nov. 21. He targeted this game as the one he needed to return for and slowly worked his way back into practice drills this week. He termed the ankle 65 percent healthy.
“I limited myself to drills I can do,” he said. “I think I will play (Thursday).”
WSU (9-0) survived three games without Orukpe, beating Tulsa, Air Force and Northern Colorado. Tennessee (4-3) represents a bigger challenge with a frontcourt that can match WSU’s size. The Shockers could use Orukpe’s height against players such as Jarnell Stokes, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound sophomore who averages 11.9 points and 7.9 rebounds.
“I just wish I was healthier, but regardless I should be able to guard,” Orukpe said. “I look forward to games like this.”
WSU sophomore Evan Wessel will not play against Tennessee. He will miss his second game after pulling a piece of the bone and the ligament away from the pinky knuckle on his right hand in practice. He must determine if he can play with the injury and the pain it causes. If the pain keeps him from playing, surgery is an option.
“I’ve got to see how it’s feeling, and see if I’m able to play,” Wessel said. “I’ve got to be effective out there. You can’t just go out there.”
ESPN ends BracketBusters — BracketBusters, a much-debated, made-for-TV weekend of basketball, will end this season.
ESPN, which created the event for the 2002-03 season, pulled the plug amid changes in the lineup of teams that weakened the event. Most recently, teams from the Colonial Athletic Association were excluded after the conference signed with NBC Sports last spring.
The final BracketBusters will be held Feb. 22-23 with 122 teams from 13 conferences playing.
BracketBusters was designed to help mid-major schools play good opponents late in the season to enhance their NCAA Tournament resumes.
"Given the evolving college landscape, we felt the event in its present form has run its course,” ESPN said in a news release. “We’ll continue to work with our conference partners to develop new, creative events to further grow the sport. Our goal is to maintain the BracketBusters brand in some fashion in the future."
ESPN.com’s Andy Katz wrote that the return game mandated for a later season will likely be played.
BracketBusters divided coaches and fans. It gave some teams ESPN exposure and produced memorable games such as George Mason-Wichita State in 2006 and Utah State-Saint Mary’s in 2009 and 2011. Its late-season spot on the calendar interrupted conference play and created many games that forced teams into inconvenient travel or unattractive matchups.
WSU first played in BracketBusters in 2004, defeating Austin Peay at Koch Arena. It went 3-6 in the games, losing to George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth in seasons those teams advanced to the Final Four.. Last season, WSU won at Davidson 91-74.