Sooner or later, Oklahoma was going to make you take them seriously.
It happened on Saturday, as the Sooners went into Intrust Bank Arena and landed an upset over No. 3 Wichita State, 91-83, in one of the toughest arenas to get a win in college basketball.
Trae Young led the way with 28 points and ten assists for Oklahoma, who improved to 8-1 on the season with the win. Brady Manek added 21 points while Christian James and Kameron McGusty both chipped in with 13 points.
Here are three things to take away from this dominating performance:
1. Trae Young is the best player in college basketball
There is no other way to look at it right now.
With all due respect to the likes of Marvin Bagley III, and Deandre Ayton, and Jordan Murphy, and Trevon Bluiett, and whoever else you want to put into that conversation, it’s Young. We had him ranked as the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award in this week’s rankings, and that was before he went into Wichita and put up 29 points and 10 assists – including 21 points and seven assists in the first half as the Sooners jumped out to a 54-39 lead – on the No. 3 team in college basketball.
Prior to today, there was reason for someone – not me, but someone – to question whether or not that was true, and it mostly had to do with the difficulty of the schedule that Oklahoma had played. Oklahoma lost to Arkansas. Beating Oregon doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. Even going to Los Angeles and knocking off USC in the Staples Center might not be all that great of a win.
But after this?
After eviscerating Wichita State for 20 minutes on their own floor?
There is nothing you can say otherwise. He’s not physically imposing, but the way that Young can impact every single thing the Sooners do on the offensive end of the floor cannot be overlooked. He’s done to Oklahoma’s offense what Lonzo Ball did to UCLA’s last season. They are different players – Young dominates possession much more than Lonzo did – but the effect they have on their team is the same.
That’s how good Young has been this season.
2. We have to start talking about Oklahoma as a factor in the Big 12 race
A lot of that has to do with Young and how good he has been, but it shouldn’t be overlooked just how effective some of Oklahoma’s other pieces are.
Let’s start with Brady Manek, who has been terrific in Oklahoma’s last two wins. He had 21 points and hit five threes against Wichita State. Jamuni McNeace had 10 boards and four blocks on Saturday – including a pair of blocks where he flat-out snatched the ball out of midair – and he’s the second-best big man on the Sooners behind Khadeen Lattin, who started on Oklahoma’s Final Four team. Christian James and Kameron McGusty have been effective on the wings as well.
That’s essentially what this Oklahoma team is. Trae Young and a bunch of role players that Young makes better.
Kansas is going to be the favorite to win the Big 12 regular season title as long as they are a member of the Big 12. That much is simple. But in a year where there is no clear-cut No. 2 team in the conference – and in a season where Kansas has no depth and no size – the Sooners are in the mix as much as anyone.
3. Wichita State’s defensive woes are a major, major concern
Wichita State game up 54 first-half points to Oklahoma on Saturday, which would be surprising if the Shockers hadn’t just given up 50 first half points to South Dakota State two weeks ago.
The default for Wichita State is to assume that Gregg Marshall has one of college basketball’s stingiest defenses. That simple fact is a major reason why I wrote a column earlier this season asking if the Shockers were the best team in the country this season. They would be able to work through some of their issues offensively and some of the growing pains heading into a larger conference because of the floor their defense allowed them.
And rest assured, the Shockers are still pretty good on that end of the floor.
But they’ve not been among the elite this season. Currently, they rank 19th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. The last time they ranked that low was in 2013 … when they reached the Final Four.
So all hope is not lost, but the safest bet in college basketball is that practice for the Shockers is not going to be enjoyable until Marshall sees a marked improvement.