Kansas-Oklahoma Betting Guide: Will Jayhawks Slow Down Trae Young?

Kansas-Oklahoma Betting Guide: Will Jayhawks Slow Down Trae Young? article feature image
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© Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Since Oklahoma’s sensational freshman point guard Trae Young has taken the college basketball world by storm, pieces about how to “slow him down” have popped up at a rate equal to his assist numbers. That includes yours truly, who wrote here about West Virginia providing somewhat of a blueprint to slowing Young down after their game in Morgantown. The caveat with the “West Virginia blueprint” is that Bob Huggins extends pressure after every made field goal/free throw and out of timeouts. Not a lot of teams have the ability, or even willingness, to implement that type of model.

Perhaps Bruce Weber and Kansas State provided a more identifiable blueprint for defending Trae Young in the Wildcats’ 87-69 win on Jan. 16. KSU used its length to swarm Young on every single ball screen, essentially trapping him with not only his assigned man (mostly Barry Brown) but the screener’s man as well (usually Xavier Sneed or Cartier Diarra). Those athletic, long-armed defenders obscured Young’s ability to see the roller and put the ball on the floor. Thus, Young struggled in the worst performance of his young career at OU. He posted an ORtg (offensive rating) of just 73 and a Big 12 record 12 turnovers. KSU basically turned Young into only a jump shooter. He shot just 2-of-10 from 3, 2-of-4 from the free throw line, and only had six assists, his second lowest total of the year. Take a look at the clip below at the 6:15 mark for an example of this KSU blueprint.

Don’t Panic in Norman

I’m not worried about Young in the least. His hype exploded so quickly that any type of backlash after a poor outing was inevitable. He’s still a 19-year-old playing in the best conference in college basketball with by far the highest usage rate (41.5) ever recorded in the KenPom era (since the 2003-04 season). That number has even increased to 46% in Big 12 play.

Young will continue to benefit from the brilliant offensive mind of Lon Kruger, who will find ways to free Young up. In the second half against Kansas State, Oklahoma set fewer ball screens for Young to keep a secondary defender away from him. And when they did set them, they typically used sharp shooting freshman big Brady Manek. He might be the key for OU’s offense going forward because of his quick release and pure stroke from the perimeter. Kruger also used Young off the ball more in the second half against Oklahoma State. Take a look at the video below (starting at the 4:08 mark) for an example of this action, although players like Rashard Odomes have struggled to develop into consistent secondary facilitators.

Can Kansas Follow Either Blueprint?

Kansas will try to model the aforementioned KSU model as they prepare for Young in Norman tonight. However, I’m not sure who Self can use as the swarming secondary defender in ball screens vs. Young. Lagerald Vick has the athleticism, but he’s been lost defensively. Svi Mykhailiuk also has his own set of issues in terms of lateral quickness. I’m guessing we will see a lot of pick-and-pops early with Manek. If Self chooses to swarm with Mykhailiuk, Young can either find the wide-open shooter or exploit a poor secondary defender himself. Both defenses generally entice jump shots, preferring to wall off the lane from penetration. That’s particularly true for KU, who looks to protect their only big man in Udoka Azuibuike. That is a dangerous game to play against either offense tonight.

Kansas’ offense essentially plays in a very similar manner to OU’s. Bill Self has moved away from his ubiquitous high-low action and joined the space-and-pace revolution. Like OU, the Jayhawks have a lethal transition offense with an outstanding decision maker in pick-and-roll with Devonte’ Graham. I think Trae Young finds a way to get it done in a plus matchup at home, but Kansas will score with ease.

The Pick: Oklahoma -1 or pass