Oklahoma Sooners

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Tumble continues for Oklahoma as No. 8 Kansas cruises to win

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Oklahoma desperately needed a win. Not even necessarily in the classic sense of the term of outscoring your opponent. The Sooners just needed something, anything, positive to build on in a season that’s suddenly crumbling around them.

Unfortunately for Lon Kruger and his team, Allen Fieldhouse is not the place to go when you’re in need of a pick-me-up. It’s a place more suited for realizing your worst nightmares.

Eighth-ranked Kansas eviscerated the Sooners in a 104-74 beatdown that not only exposed Oklahoma’s problems but exacerbated them to the point where the NCAA tournament no longer looks to be assured.

Oh, and it set up a potential Big 12 title game in Lubbock later this week with a 13-year streak on the line, but more on that later.

The headline here is that Oklahoma and the man who set college basketball ablaze, Trae Young, look broken. And maybe beyond repair.

Oklahoma has now lost six in a row, tumbling from burgeoning Final Four contender to potential First Four hopeful. Things are spinning out of control fast.

The person who will draw the bulk of the blame, fair or not, is Young. The freshman from Norman North looked like the college basketball’s answer to Steph Curry while carrying his hometown university to a 12-1 start to the year, leading the country in scoring, assists and jaw-dropping plays and performances. The substance of his game matched the style, which was no small feat for a guy who routinely would splash shots from 35 feet out.

He’s been a bit of a disaster during this six-game slide, however. Young is just 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range and 27 of 57 (47.3 percent) from inside the arc during the losing streak. He’s also turned it over 25 times. He’s still distributing at a high-rate, but that’s not enough to offset his shooting numbers. His teammates don’t score it well enough to pick up the slack. They also can’t create for Young. He’s got to do all of it himself – get looks and dole them out.

Young and Oklahoma’s issue runs deeper than just the makes and misses of their offense, though. The Sooners’ defense has become a massive liability. Kansas took a sledgehammer to it and blasted it to smithereens in front of 16,300 witnesses in Allen Fieldhouse and millions more in their living rooms.

The Jayhawks shot 60.9 percent for the game. They made 16 of 29 of their 3-point attempts. That’s 55.2 percent from deep. Nineteen of their buckets came from layups or dunks and averaged 1.444 points per possession.

It was as if the Sooners weren’t there at all, which actually might have been of some consolation to Kruger because that would at least mean no one could see their baffling lack of effort, cohesiveness and pride on the defensive end. It was really a sight to behold for the rest of us, though.

Young is as big of culprit here as anyone. Yes, he carries an incredible offensive burden with a 39.6 usage rate. No one is expecting him to be Jevon Carter, but he has to offer some resistance some of the time. Against the Jayhawks, he died on screens again and again or simply didn’t even put up a fight too often when guarding the ball.

He’s not alone, however, as the Sooners looked disconnected as a unit. They were simply incapable of even slowing Kansas. The Jayhawks got hot, sure, but Oklahoma can’t write this off as just catching a team on a night they couldn’t miss. The Sooners had as much to do with it as anything.

That’s the area that’s got to get fixed. Young may not be able to put up the absurd numbers he did for long stretches earlier this season, but his talent is so immense that it would be foolish to expect this slump to stay this bad for too much longer. Without a superhuman Young, however, they’ve got to get some stops. Without them, Young may join the ignominious list of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as pheoms who failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Now, back to that Big 12 title game in West Texas.

Assuming Texas Tech can get in and out of Stillwater with a win over Oklahoma State – potentially without Keenan Evans – the Red Raiders and Jayhawks will be tied atop the Big 12 with matching 11-4 league records with Kansas making the trip to Lubbock.

The Jayhawks, you may have heard, have won 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. It very well could be decided Saturday if there will be a 14th.

After a two-game hiccup of losses at Texas and Iowa State, Chris Beard’s team won seven-straight before falling to a resurgent Baylor on Saturday. They’re undefeated at home and possess one of the country’s best defenses. They’ve been the biggest threat to Kansas’ streak since they knocked off the Jayhawks in Lawrence in January.

The Jayhawks will go into the game with their best offensive performance of the season. Devonte Graham finally looked like he may be the Big 12’s best player – he certainly bested Young – and Svi Mykhailiuk, LeGerald VIck and Malik Newman looked like the more-than-capable secondary options this Jayhawks team desperately needs. Silvio De Sousa even looked serviceable for the first time, putting up 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. Which is also to say nothing of Udoka Azubuike being one of the Big 12’s toughest matchups.

Kansas is a flawed team, but once again the Jayhawks have put themselves in enviable position and appear to be rounding into tip-top form toward the end of February. It’s their conference, and they’ll have the chance this weekend to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is just trying to stay out of playing Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners sure could use a win. Of any kind.

Young goes for 32, but No. 19 West Virginia tops No. 17 Oklahoma

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There are typical rhythms and currents to a basketball game that are present just about anytime 10 people share a court. There’s the natural movements and interplay that makes it easy to identify cause and effect, even before anything even happens.

Then there are games with Trae Young, whose creativity, ESP-level feel for the game and boundless shooting range wholly turns a game on its head. It makes for breathtaking basketball because those conventions that are so well-worn into your psyche simply don’t apply to Young. He operates outside the standard rules of the game.

It makes for breathtaking basketball, but it also has its limitations.

Oklahoma appears to be butting up to those borders.

Nineteenth-ranked West Virginia topped the No. 17 Sooners, 75-73, on Monday night with Young putting up 32 points but with just one assist and six turnovers.

Young is undoubtedly awesome, but the Sooners are swooning, losers of three of their last four and five of their last seven. Their freshman phenom has taken heat in recent weeks for his shot selection – and volume – but there’s more at play than just that, not to mention he’s tempered his 3-point shooting quite a bit. His teammates shot just 41.7 percent overall and were 2 of 6 from 3-point range. Hard to rack up assists when your teammates don’t make a ton of shots.

The bigger issue, though, is the charge that the rest of the Sooners do too much watching of Young. That’s often a criticism of teams and players when one guy does so much – Young’s 40 percent usage rate is the highest in the country and his 35.5 percent shooting rate is seventh – but it’s particularly interesting to consider with the Sooners.

Usually that critique comes as commentary on how players tune out and become disengaged when they know the ball is going up and not coming to them. There’s standing because there’s no ball movement, and there’s no ball movement because, for lack of a better term, there’s a ball hog on the floor. Think of those particularly grinding Allen Iverson 76ers teams.

I’m not convinced that’s the case with Oklahoma.

First off, there’s the easy data point that Young leads the country in assists with more than nine helpers per game. He’s finding teammates in positions to score and situations to be successful. The trick of it is there still is standing around. It’s almost like Young’s teammates are like us – they get caught watching Young because the don’t know what he’s going to do next. When you’ve got a guy that – in a single game – made a 35-footer like it was nothing, made a layup in which the ball bounced off the top of the backboard and then through the rim and had a number of passes only he could see the lane for, it’s easy to see why.

Young is unpredictable because he’s playing the game on another wavelength, one that really only he can see. Sometimes it can be hard to run coherent offense when your teammates struggle to predict what’s coming next, no matter how dazzling that next move may be.

West Virginia also deserves a ton of praise for their work against Young. Sure, he went for 32, but by limiting his assist total, the Mountaineers contained his offensive contributions to just his scoring. That’s a major win when you’re facing a player that can totally tilt a defense with his all-consuming gravity. Young got his, but West Virginia blunted his impact by making him solely a scorer and not the hub that Oklahoma’s whole offense can spin around.

West Virginia has dealt with Young as well as anyone, handing him two losses in their two meetings while forcing him to commit a total of 14 turnovers. The concerns facing the Mountaineers after three-straight losses to end January seem to have blown over with their 38-point beatdown of Kansas State over the weekend and now a win in Norman. Jevon Carter went for 10 points, eight assists and six steals while Sagaba Konate continues to be a dominating presence inside, blocking two shots and altering plenty more.

West Virginia seems just fine.

The Sooners are probably fine too, but they’re learning how being so utterly dependent on one transcendent player can put a ceiling on success, but maybe just in the regular season. Big 12 defenses get two cracks at solving Young, and they usually have multiple days to put together a game plan. In the 18-game grinder that is the Big 12 round-robin, some clunkers – and it’s absolutely bonkers to call a 32-point performance a clunker – are inevitable.

In the NCAA tournament, though, handing the whole workload over to Young is a high-upside proposition. Playing Young is something that you can’t truly prepare for until he’s canned a 35-footer right in your face. Plus, while Young is going to have off nights over 18 games and two months, him getting hot for a few games could put Oklahoma in San Antonio. Sample size can be your friend in a one-and-done tournament when you’ve got a player who can fill it up like Young can.

Young is a force that makes you bend to his presence. That works both for and against Oklahoma at times. That’s one of those good problems.

Trae Young ties NCAA single-game assist records

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Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young has built up a solid case to be on the short list of national Player of the Year candidates in non-conference play, as he entered Tuesday’s game leading the nation in scoring and third in assists.

With Young going off against then-No. 3 Wichita State on Saturday to the tune of 29 points and ten assists, it was obvious that Northwestern State would have its hands full with the freshman phenom Tuesday night.

Young was outstanding in the Sooners’ 105-68 victory, scoring 26 points and dishing out 22 assists.

The assist mark broke the school and Big 12 single-game records, and Young tied the NCAA record for most assists in a game as well. Young is the fourth player in Division I history to tallying 22 assists in a single game, joining Sherman Douglas (Syracuse vs. Providence, 1989), Tony Fairley (Charleston Southern vs. Armstrong Atlantic, 1987) and Avery Johnson (Southern vs. Texas Southern, 1988). Douglas was the most recent player to rack up 22 assists in a game prior to Tuesday night.

The question now is whether or not Young can duplicate this feat at some point in the season. Johnson is the only player to have multiple games of at least 20 assists in his collegiate career, with the current Alabama head coach doing it four times.

Prior to Tuesday the last time a player dished out at least 20 assists in a Division I game was in 2008, with Alabama State’s Brandon Brooks doing so in a game against Jackson State.

Of the 105 points the Sooners scored Tuesday night, Young had a role in 76 of them. Fellow freshman Brady Manek added 22 points and Christian James 13 for the Sooners, who are ranked 17th in this week’s Associated Press Top 25.

Lost Pressure: How Oklahoma freshman phenom Trae Young ignores expectations and will get the Sooners back on track

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KANSAS CITY — Trae Young knew he had slipped up as soon as he said it.

Surrounded by reporters, the five-star freshman uttered a word he loathes, going so far as to refuse its very existence, when asked the pros and cons of staying in his hometown to be Oklahoma University’s star point guard.

“I know it’s a lot of pressure,” he said, wanting to reel the word back in as soon as it entered the atmosphere inside the Sprint Center at Big 12 media day Tuesday.

“I don’t know why I said pressure,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t use the word pressure. It’s just a lot on my plate, is what I say.”

“I don’t use that word. I’m going to hit myself later for saying that.”

Whatever word you want to use to describe it, the spotlight will be on Young this season as the centerpiece of the Sooners’ hoped bounce-back season following last year’s 11-20 record coming off a Final Four the previous season.

“He’s done a really good job of making it about his teammates and making it about others, the program,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said, “and he’s a guy that could go off individually and hasn’t done that. He’s very — he’s smart with regard to the value of doing things as a group and he knows, too, that he needs his teammates to play well and he’s doing everything he can to help encourage them and motivate them to do everything they can and certainly his teammates appreciate what he can do.”

The whole of Oklahoma knows what Young can do after he averaged 42.6 points per game as a senior at Norman North High School, which is all of 4 miles north of the Sooners’ Lloyd Noble Center home. He joins legends Blake Griffin, Wayman Tisdale and Jeff Webster as Oklahomans who stayed home with the Sooners after being a McDonald’s All-American.

That makes walking campus something of an event for Young.

“I’m the type of guy, I like to interact with a lot of people, like meeting new people,” he said. “To be able to see all the people on campus, to see what it’s like to be a college student, it’s been fun.

“Sometimes I’m late to class just because I’m getting stopped, but it’s fun. I love it.”

Young had plenty of opportunity to bolt from the familiarity of home to one of the country’s basketball factories that takes in highly-rated recruits and churns out highly-drafted prospects every single year.  He sought counsel from a pair of his peers in the same situation.

“People like Mohammed (Bamba),” Young said of the potential No. 1 draft pick now at Texas. “Me and him are really close. Him and my best friend (Missouri freshman) Michael Porter. We talk almost every day. Us three are really close.”

That allowed them to compare notes.

Lon Kruger (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“We were both recruited by Kentucky and Kansas,” Bamba said, “and we just kind of picked each other’s brains over what we thought.

“It was just good to have someone you could relate to.”

In the end, though, Young’s decision centered on one simple truth.

“He wanted,” Bamba said, “to be home.”

Young now straddles something between savior and servant. The Sooners, of course, hardly need saving just 18 months removed from a Final Four, but an 11-20 season doesn’t exactly create endearing memories for anyone. Young has the talent to make an instant impact, but not just with his prodigious talent and prolific scoring.

“His ability to lead and bring in a group of people,” Bamba said. “The fact he was able to do it at these different camps where people don’t necessarily care about each other. The fact he was able to do it at camp, shows he’ll be able to do it anywhere.

“He was big on making sure he wouldn’t try to make a home run play. He’ll try to do different things to set it up, get the best shot possible. Which is what a point guard should do.”

The crazy-hyped freshman phenom who also happens to be the hometown hero operates in a somewhat delicate space when first arriving in a locker room. An ability to spread the love on the court goes a long way.

“Trae has outstanding skill,” Kruger said. “Anytime you’ve got a player like that, he’s got an opportunity to make players around him better by attracting attention, by driving and attracting help defender and kicking.”

Which is exactly what Young says he’s looking to do.

“I feel like I’m very prepared to come in, do what coach Kruger says, push the pace and do what he tells me to do,” Young said. “Me and him, we watch film all the time. Almost every day. That helps coming in and knowing what he wants.”

Young may have the most potential of any Sooner recruit since Blake Griffin stepped on campus a decade ago, but it’s a Sooner who was lightly regarded as a recruit and grew into a lottery pick that begs comparison. Buddy Hield came to Oklahoma with few believing his NBA prospects, but became one of the best in school history through a legendary work ethic. That drive is something that their mutual coach believes his newest star shares.

“I think that they’re both equally motivated,” Kruger said. “That’s the key. Whatever makes you love getting up and working to be better every day. I think both are kind of equal in that way, kind of from a different starting point. Both are very competitive, and both want to do really great things.”

A lofty comparison for a player who’s yet to take a competitive dribble. It’s one that a freshman, playing in his hometown, with the weight of massive expectation and a boundless professional future might shrink from.

Trae Young, though?

“There’s no such thing,” he said, “as pressure.”

Oklahoma sophomore Doolittle to miss first semester

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Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule just got a little more challenging.

Sooner sophomore Kristian Doolittle has been suspended for the first semester of this upcoming season due to academic reasons, the school announced Wednesday.

“I didn’t meet the academic standards and I apologize to my teammates, coaches, fans and the university,” Doolittle said in a statement released by the school. “I take full responsibility for my actions and will use this time away from the team to learn from my mistakes. I am committed to bettering myself throughout this process and look forward to earning a chance to compete with my teammates after the fall semester.”

The 6-foot-7 forward should be back in time for Oklahoma’s most important part of the season – Big 12 play – but the Sooners have a rather challenging non-conference slate for which he’ll be sidelined. Oklahoma is in the loaded field of the PK80 tournament in Oregon with Arkansas its first-round opponent and then North Carolina potentially waiting in the second round. The Sooners also play USC in Los Angeles and at Wichita State before welcoming Northwestern into Norman.

“We’re disappointed for Kristian,” OU coach Lon Kruger said in a statement. “He made some poor decisions that resulted in his suspension from the university. We will provide support and encouragement as he works to earn the opportunity to rejoin the team at the conclusion of the fall semester.”

Doolittle averaged 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, starting 25 games in Oklahoma’s 20-13 campaign.

March Madness 2017: Big 12 Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big 12 Player of the Year: Frank Mason III, Kansas

Mason’s play this season makes him the no-brainer conference player of the year and perhaps the frontrunner for the national award. He’s averaging 20.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and a sizzling 49.3 percent from 3-point range for the potential No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas

There was a temptation to reward Brad Underwood for Oklahoma State’s turnaround, but it’s impossible not to recognize Self leading his program not only to a 13th-straight conference title, but doing it by four games in the country’s toughest league. Kansas may have the top talent in the league year in and year out, but Self’s presence on the sideline guarantees it comes together year in and year out. This season was no exception.

First-Team All-Big 12:

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas (POY)
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State: The nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio is as consistent an elite presence on the floor as there is in the country.
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: The most dynamic and important piece of the country’s best offense, Evans averaged 18.7 points per game.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is Kansas’ MVP, but Jackson is the Jayhawks’ most difficult matchup and is a likely top-five NBA draft pick.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The big man doubled his rebounding output this season to average a double-double of 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Second Team All-Big 12:

  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State
  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Deonte Burton, Iowa State
  • Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The thought was coming into the year that the Big 12 would be down this season, but for the fourth-straight year it ranked as the country’s best conference by KenPom. Another thing that didn’t change was Kansas winning the league, making it 13 in a row for the Jayhawks. The league isn’t going to send a huge number to the NCAA tournament this season, but make no mistake, the conference’s round-robin schedule was a grind, making it all the more impressive Kansas cleared the league by four games.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Sprint Center; Kansas City, Mo.

Final: Saturday, March 11, 6 p.m.

Favorite: Kansas

The Jayhawks are clearly the class of the Big 12, winning the conference by its largest margin since 2010. Kansas isn’t invulnerable at the Sprint Center, as the rest of the league has more than enough firepower to threaten them, but there’s no argument that makes anyone else the favorite.

And if they lose?: West Virginia

The Mountaineers should have swept Kansas this year. They rocked them in Morgantown, but blew a late lead in spectacular fashion in Lawrence later in the season. Their Press Virginia style seems to seriously bother the Jayhawks, and it could make for a raucous title game.

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 24: Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts to a call in the second half during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at WVU Coliseum on January 24, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Bob Huggins (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Baylor: The Bears went 2-4 against the top-four of the conference, but their length and the talent of Johnathan Motley makes them an intriguing matchup
  • Iowa State: The Cyclones have won six of their last seven and three members of their core — Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas — who have won two Big 12 tournament titles in their career. They’ve also have claimed wins against each of the other top teams in the league this year.

Sleeper: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys opened the Big 12 slate with six-straight losses, but then won nine of 10 before ending the season with losses to Iowa State and Kansas. Their defense is porous, but their top-ranked KenPom offense, led by point guard Jawun Evans, makes them a legitimate threat to reel off three wins in three days.

The Bubble Dwellers: One

  • Kansas State: Most projections have the Wildcats just on the bad side of the field of 68 line, which means they’ll probably have to score a win against Baylor in the quarterfinals to move the needle. Depending on what happens around the rest of the country, that one more win could be enough to earn a berth.

Defining moment of the season: Kansas erasing a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes at home against West Virginia. This is Peak Phog Allen.

CBT Prediction: Kansas