St. John's point guard Jamal Branch's knee is gradually feeling better, but don't expect him to play Wednesday against South Florida.
Branch suffered a sprain to the MCL in his left knee in the Red Storm's loss at Georgetown on February 2nd when Hoyas forward Nate Lubick inadvertently fell on the guard's leg. He has missed the three games since.
"It's why we were so conservative in our projections. With cutting and lateral movement, there's still some pain," Steve Lavin described of his evaluation of Branch's knee. "I always tend to be cautious and conservative when it comes to a player's health because so much is at stake."
At the time of his injury, Branch had been averaging 8.3 points, 2.5 assists, and two rebounds per game in the ten contests he played in after joining the team on December 21st. He scored in double figures four times, including an 18-point outburst in the road win at DePaul.
The timetable for Branch's return to the floor for the Johnnies remains uncertain.
"Is it another week? Another two weeks? Do we need to wait until next year? We just don't really know," Lavin continued. "We won't play him until he can go at full speed."
In the three games that Branch has missed, fill-in point guard Phil Greene IV has played well as a scoring combo guard, averaging 13.7 points and 3.3 assists in that stretch. But St. John's halfcourt offense has taken a hit, often looking stagnant and confused without a natural ball-handler, shot-creator, and court general.
"At this point, he feels that he's making good progress. But in terms of explosiveness, there's still some pain," Lavin said. "That signals that he hasn't fully recovered."
If Branch were to be out for an extended period of time or even the entire season, it could be a major blow to the Red Storm's postseason dreams. But, for now, it looks like they will have to fight on without him.
The Rumble will provide updates on Jamal Branch's return status when information becomes available.