I thought Brady Manek’s two points against Texas Tech on Dec. 22 was a momentary blip. After all, Manek has been one of the Oklahoma Sooners’ most consistent players since he stepped on the floor as a true freshman.
But, after Manek scored just seven points against West Virginia on Jan. 2, one has to wonder if there’s something wrong with the lanky forward, or if there’s a sea change happening for Sooners basketball this season. Or both.
Once the Sooners finally started the season on Dec. 3 against UT-San Antonio — after a one-week COVID-19 pause — Manek shot the ball lights out, hitting eight 3-pointers and scoring 29 points. It was as if he had pent-up energy from the delay.
Since then, Manek’s scoring average has dropped to 13.6 points per game, less than half of that single-game output.
Now, I wasn’t expecting Manek to average 29 points per game, and his average now is right around his career average. But the issue right now is that in the past two games Manek has shot a combined 4-for-16 from the floor. Manek is used to shooting close to 50 percent from the floor for his career at OU. Shooting 25 percent for a two-game stretch is unusual.
There were key stretches in that Texas Tech game in which Manek wasn’t on the floor as the Sooners were trying to furiously rally to win that game. Manek played 26 minutes against West Virginia, but the rest of the team carried him as he scored just seven points.
Umoja Gibson matched Manek’s 3-point output from the season opener in that game, hitting eight 3-pointers, scoring 29 points and earning Big 12 Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week honors. Austin Reaves finished with 13 points and De’Vion Harmon finished with 10 points. Now, we should clear up that Reaves and Harmon have had a couple of difficult games, too. Against West Virginia neither got it going until the second half. Gibson’s unexpected explosion helped carry the day against the Mountaineers.
And, in truth, a balanced offense is going to help the Sooners in the long term. Gibson emerging as an outside threat helps Reaves and Harmon. The eligibility of Elijah Harkless helps Reaves and Harmon. Steady contributions from all four players helps Manek.
But, I’m used to seeing Manek stabilize everyone else.
Manek was the ‘other freshman’ in the 2017-18 season when Trae Young electrified college basketball, racking up triple-doubles every night and turning himself into an NBA Lottery Pick. In any other year, though, Manek might have been the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, the award Young ended up claiming.
Manek has been metronomically consistent in Norman, as his scoring average has remained steady, his shooting percentage has remained steady and even his rebounding and assists have remained steady. In that way, you almost don’t notice Manek unless he has a couple of games like his last two in Big 12 play. And then you start to worry.
Is the worrying justified? I hope not. I hope it’s nothing more than a momentary blip. So do the Sooners, who are now receiving votes in both polls and face being a bubble team in the NCAA Tournament’s 68-team field.
I know this — as Oklahoma prepares for its next Big 12 game against Baylor on Wednesday, they’re hoping that Manek gets back to what they’re used to seeing. Because a Sooners team with a Manek firing on all cylinders makes the Sooners that much more dangerous.
And with Baylor and Kansas on tap this week, the Sooners need all the ‘dangerous’ they can get.
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