Handicapping Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Matchups: Trae Young vs. Collin Sexton and More

Handicapping Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Matchups: Trae Young vs. Collin Sexton and More article feature image

© Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Trae Young vs. Collin Sexton or Steph Curry vs. Russell Westbrook? Pretty much the same thing on the major conference college hoops level. One is a silky smooth jump shooter with supernatural ball skills and the other is a lethal downhill attacker with do-it-all ability on the floor. I’ll take a look at who has the edge in a matchup we will probably follow for years to come. I’ll also take a look at some other marquee Saturday afternoon Big 12/SEC matchups, including Georgia at K-State, Tennessee at Iowa State, and Texas A&M at Kansas. Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for injury updates, in-game situations, and second half plays. I pulled all posted lines from Pinnacle at the time of publication. Lets’ dive in.

Oklahoma (-1) @ Alabama

2:15 p.m. ET

First and foremost, the health of Sexton — and to an almost equal extent —Donta Hall, are important. Sexton did practice this week after returning to action against Ole Miss. However, he looked very un-Sexton like in the loss in Oxford, going just 1 of 13 from the field in 20 minutes. You could (and should) make the argument that Avery Johnson should have rested Sexton in a game that served virtually no purpose for the Tide. A loss (which happened when Sexton was less than a 100 percent) didn’t kill their résumé, and a win would not have mattered that much to the Committee come March. On the plus side, Hall looked fantastic. He tortured the lacking Ole Miss interior on 6-7 shooting and dominated the offensive glass in just 17 minutes. 

For the sake of argument, let’s look at the on/off efficiency splits of Sexton and Young, per hooplens. First, let’s establish that Oklahoma is 21 points better per 100 possessions with Trae Young on the floor. Meanwhile, Alabama is 14 points better with Sexton on the floor. That’s a fairly noticeable gap, but things get a little more interesting when you break the efficiency splits down to conference play only.

Well, a little less interesting in Young’s case, since he basically never sits. He has the highest usage rate in the country, which means the Sooners’ numbers with him on the floor are basically just the Sooners’ numbers in conference play. However, Sexton’s chart reflects something interesting because the Tide have had to play without him in SEC play. Alabama has essentially performed equally with and without Sexton. In fact, they have performed better in several key offensive categories without him. Alabama actually went 2-0 record without Sexton this year.

Moving past the Young vs Sexton comparison, let’s look at how these teams actually match up. Offensively, both teams essentially use a read and react ball screen offense for their superstars, Young and Sexton. That makes sense. So it seems logical to examine how each team can defend ball screens. Young is a  pretty “meh” defender in ball screens. However, Rashard Odomes and Chis James can both offer valuable length and athleticism as help defenders against Sexton. They both grade out well in pick and roll defense, per Synergy.

Alabama, meanwhile, plays the best defense in the SEC. John Petty, Dazon Ingram, and especially Herb Jones all possess extreme defensive versatility. Additionally, Avery Johnson will switch on every screen when all three play together. Length and versatility on ball screens has proven to be a winning formula against Young. Teams that have turned Young into strictly a shooter (and less of a distributor) have really limited his effectiveness.

HOWEVER. I’m not buying into the current narrative that Young and OU are better when he takes only nine shots, as he did against Kansas. First, Young also shot 12 free throws. Second, OU didn’t beat KU because Young “only attempted nine shots,” but rather because Bill Self oddly didn’t sub out Udoka Azubuike for Mitch Lightfoot while the Sooners played “Hack-a-Dok”. I haven’t seen a more egregious coaching error this year. Regardless, the idea that OU beat KU because Young was “reigned in” is utter nonsense. He’s the country’s most lethal scorer. You let him shoot when he thinks he gets open, and sometimes even if not.

With that side rant over, I should note that Alabama has an elite-transition defense. That’s always essential against Lon Kruger, one of the best transition coaches in the country. However, and this may seem minor, but Alabama grades out as one of the worst defenses against side out of bounds plays and plays out of timeouts. Kruger excels in both. OU should get free points as a result, which will make the difference in what should be a close game.

The Pick: Oklahoma -1

Other Quick Hitters: 

Georgia at Kansas State -7.5 (2 p.m. ET) Fairly tough spot for Kansas State against a Georgia team they don’t particularly match up well against.  KSU does have a distinct advantage in the backcourt, but Yante Maten will give them fits in the frontcourt. Every Bruce Weber team utilizes bigs by spacing them out in his motion offense. However, they provide little resistance inside defensively. Maten should get whatever he wants at the rim. On the other side of the ball, Georgia head coach Mark Fox will have to find a way to contain Barry Brown and Cartier Diarra. Diarra has been a revelation since taking over for the injured Kam Stokes, and UGA’s Turtle Jackson has been exposed routinely by elite guards. Having said that, the Dawgs will not only dominate the post, but they will have a massive advantage on the offensive glass. UGA clocks in as the 19th best offensive rebounding team in the country, while KSU rebounds at a MEAC level on the defensive glass. While UGA comes in off a gutting 2OT loss to Arkansas, they should catch a KSU team looking ahead to a Big Monday rematch with rival Kansas.

The Pick: Georgia +7.5

Tennessee at Iowa State +3  (4 p.m. ET) From a matchup perspective, Tennessee is perhaps the worst SEC team Iowa State could have drawn. First, Tennessee dominates in post offense, despite running small across the frontcourt. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are a matchup nightmare because of their elusiveness in the post and ability to pop out in pick and roll and rub screens, That spells trouble for a porous Iowa State rim defense. In fact, per hoop-math.com, the Clones allow the 8th highest FG% at the rim in the country. Not only should Iowa State have issues on the defensive end, but Steve Prohm’s pick and roll heavy offense will run into a tremendous PnR defense. Per Synergy, the Vols allow just .635 points per possession to PnR ball handlers. That is where ISU butters their bread offensively with Nick Weiler-Babb and Lindell Wigginton. Spaced out dribble drive offenses (see Auburn) have given Tennessee fits. However, ISU’s offense can not exploit that weakness. Also, the Clones can not exploit Tennessee’s other major weakness: defensive rebounding.

The Pick: Tennessee -3

Texas A&M at Kansas -7 (4:30 p.m. ET) After an outstanding OOC season, Texas A&M has fallen flat in SEC play. Season-long issues with suspensions and injuries have left the Aggies at 2-6 in conference play. Their two meager SEC wins have come over Missouri and Ole Miss at home. However, a trip to Phog to take on Kansas represents a great chance for Billy Kennedy’s squad to get back on track. They actually match up reasonably well against Kansas. First, A&M defends ball screens very well, with Admon Gilder now healthy. Per Synergy, Gilder and Duane Wilson grade out as one of the country’s best defensive duos against pick and roll ball handlers. That’s a major key going against Devonte’ Graham. Additionally, the Aggies have the potential to feature one of the country’s best dual big offenses between Robert Williams (who recently re-discovered his offensive prowess) and Tyler Davis. While Udoka Azubuike has been an outstanding post defender, Kansas lacks depth behind him. Azubuike also can’t guard outside the paint. When Kennedy puts out a lineup of Davis/DJ Hogg/Tonny Trocha-Morales, the limited KU frontcourt will have major issues defensively. That lineup scores 1.19 points per possession, per hooplens. Those 3 also defend well, holding opponents to .89 ppp. In short, A&M’s ability to mix and match effective frontcourt lineups resembles what Baylor did to KU last Saturday.

The Pick: Texas A&M +7

Saturday Afternoon Picks

YTD: 333-312-6

2H: 29-17

Oklahoma -1
Georgia +7.5
Tennessee -3
Texas A&M +7
Quinnipiac +4.5
Texas State +8.5
Troy/ULL under 150.5
Miami OH -1.5
Arkansas St/App St under 150
TCU -5