Between now and the beginning of conference action in Big 12 men’s basketball, HeartlandCollegeSports.com contributor Matthew Postins (with Pete Mundo pinch-hitting on this one) will watch at least one game for each Big 12 team and assess where each team stands in the final weeks before league action. Today it’s the Oklahoma Sooners (against USC last Friday night).
The Trae Young Show
Young scored eight of the Sooners’ first 17 points. What’s impressed me most about Young is that he runs the point like a wily veteran and loves to push the pace. His court vision was excellent as he often seemed to find the open man. The box score won’t tell you this, as Young shot 9 of 18 from the floor against USC, but sometimes his shot selection wasn’t ideal, pulling the trigger early in the shot clock on contested three pointers. But that just seemed like an overeager freshman at times.
Young seemed to disappear for stretches in the second half, but in the final minutes, his ball movement and vision once again came to the forefront. A play that sticks out came during with the Sooners up by six points and four minutes left. Young’s shake and bake was followed by a dump off to Brady Manek on the block for a two-handed slam. He didn’t try to force the shot himself or feel the pressure since he hadn’t scored much in the second half, he just went out there and made the best play for his team on that specific play. Well done.
Don’t forget about the other freshman
Brady Manek doesn’t get nearly the hype of Young, nor should he. But like Young, Manek is an Oklahoma native from Harrah, and had 15 points on the night, hitting 3 of 8 from downtown, along with three rebounds. Manek also had a great sense of anticipation, which is something not usually taught or found in freshmen. There was a miss by Young from the right wing and Manek was underneath the hoop ready to clean it up, in perfect position. Unlike many freshmen, Manek, who is a solid 6’9’’, but has yet to fill out at 215 pounds, is willing to hang down low with the big boys on the offensive and defensive side of the floor.
Final seconds of the first half, USC offensive rebound results in second chance opportunity and cuts lead to 10. Now Trae Young did respond with a finger roll bucket in the final seconds, but it was part of a bigger picture for the Sooners. This team can shoot lights out, averaging nearly 90 points per game, good for top 3 three in the country. But the Sooners allowed 16 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded 45-32. Oklahoma ranks 8th in the Big 12 in defensive rebound percentage and are last in the conference in offensive rebound percentage. So if this team is having an off-night shooting, the opportunities for second-chance points may be tough to come by. This pressure is going to fall on Khadeem Lattin, Jamuni McNeace, along with Brady Manek and Matt Freeman, to try and battle down low and grab the boards, especially come conference play against Kansas, West Virginia, Baylor and others.
Find the leadership
As the Sooners hot a four-minute stretch in the second half without scoring, that allowed USC to get back into the game, OU didn’t appear to have the calming, veteran presence that every team needs at a time of crisis. Now, the only senior on the team, Khadeem Lattin, did have a big bucket underneath right before the under-8 timeout, which was an “And 1”, put OU up by six points, and calmed things down. But the Sooners seemed hesitant down the stretch. What they appeared to be trying to do was slow the game down. Here’s the thing: they should have done that up by 15-18 points earlier in the second half, not up by six points with six minutes left. At that point, you play your game and do what got you there. That would have been pushing the pace, quick ball movement, and quick shots.
Christian James took control down the stretch with a big three and an alleyoop, and despite only being a junior, he played consistently his first two years in Norman and should continue to become one of those upperclassmen leaders as the season progresses. The team needs him to do such.
With 53 seconds left and up by six points, the Sooners were inbounding having to the length of the floor. Jordan Sheperd got the ball in the front court and hung onto the ball to await the foul, instead of keeping the ball moving to take more time off the clock. Analyst Bill Walton made this point, and was one of the few good ones he made all night in between his absurd references to Woody Guthrie, self-driving cars and asking if TCU was in the Big 12. Bill Walton is the funniest guy Bill Walton knows. Unfortunately, he’s the only one (although, I guess some folks at ESPN must feel the same way).
Sheperd then had an awful foul on the other end for an “And 1” opportunity for USC. Terrible play. Another awful “And 1” opportunity with 11 seconds left in a five point game by Christian James was as bad as it gets. The freshmen, Young and Manek, missed four straight free throws in the final seconds. Woosh. All in all, the Sooners pulled out the 85-83 win, but it was a sloppy finish for the Sooners, who looked like a young team over the final few minutes.
Lon Kruger has lots of talent with this squad, but he’s going to have to really show off his coaching acumen for this team to compete near the top of the Big 12 conference this winter.