As some of you shift your focus from college football to college basketball, here’s an introduction to the best player in the country, Oklahoma point guard Trae Young. The freshman currently leads the NCAA in both points (29.4) and assists (10.2) and is coming off a December in which he averaged 30.3 points and 14.3 assists per game, including an NCAA record 22 assists versus Northwestern State.
Young easily had the worst offensive game of his young career in Saturday’s loss at West Virginia, but still finished with 29 points and five assists in a tough road environment against one of the nation’s best defenses. He won’t face many other teams that can replicate that combination. West Virginia’s relentless full-court pressure held Young to his lowest offensive rating of the season (92 per KenPom), forcing him into a season-high eight turnovers and a season-low five assists.
Did Press Virginia provide the Big 12 with a blueprint on how to slow down the next Steph Curry? Yes and no.
WVU coach Bob Huggins doubled Young on every Oklahoma inbound play, which disrupted OU’s potent transition offense. (The Sooners attempt a shot within 10 seconds after an opponent score at the sixth-highest rate in the country, per Hoop-math.com.) When Young did touch the ball, the Mountaineers played him with incredible physicality, knowing they could get away with more in Morgantown. WVU also successfully defended Oklahoma teammates Kam McGusty and Brady Manek on Young’s ubiquitous down court passes, as the back end of their press routinely stopped the ball and allowed the defense to set up in the halfcourt.
The No. 9 Sooners will look to get back on track in Norman Tuesday as 3.5-point favorites over an outstanding No. 8 Texas Tech team that recently beat Kansas by double digits in Lawrence. Let’s examine three primary areas that Trae Young excels in and how well Texas Tech matches up.
Note: The spread is as of Monday evening. Track live numbers across the market here.
1. Deadly in Transition
Young is absolutely lethal in transition, and he plays for one of the best transition coaches in basketball. Per Synergy, Oklahoma scores 1.22 points per possession in transition (18th best nationally) while attempting shots in transition at the sixth highest rate. Young picks apart backpedaling defenses off outlet passes and after opponent makes. Young scores 1.19 points per transition possession on his own while effortlessly setting up wings like Chris James, who scores an absurd 1.33 points per transition possession.
Texas Tech only allows .81 points per possession in transition, 14th lowest in the country and second lowest in the Big 12 (behind only WVU). Typically, teams that focus on stopping transition offense struggle on the offensive glass (Virginia/Wisconsin), but Texas Tech ranks 19th nationally in offensive rebounding rate. They are simply fundamentally solid in stopping the ball.
2. Tremendous Facilatator
The most incredible aspects of Young’s game are his decision-making and vision on ball screens. While Young can easily get to the rim off a screen, the Sooners score 1.2 points per possession when he passes in pick-and-roll situations. Young’s ability to manipulate the help defenders off screens and make precise passes (equally effective with either hand) is simply unparalleled at this level.
Texas Tech coach Chris Beard runs a defense rooted in pack line principles, featuring unerring rotations and a fundamental commitment to denying dribble penetration. However, Beard also adapts as well as any coach in the nation. Against an elite shooting Kansas team, Tech played higher on the floor and went under fewer screens than usual, especially in the second half, forcing Kansas to miss their final 13 3-point attempts. I suspect Beard will employ a similar game plan, forcing Young to finish at the rim. Young could score 30-plus and live at the line like Kansas’ Devonte Graham did, but Beard won’t mind if it restricts Young’s role as a facilitator. Even then, Texas Tech has the length and athleticism to make life difficult for Young.
3. Unlimited Range
Young’s insane 30-foot bombs draw the most attention (and Curry comparisons). He has a smooth and quick release and repeats the same motion every shot. Teams can’t sag to prevent his penetration, since Young has indefensible range.
Beard can at least pick up Young at half court without fearing his dribble penetration. Texas Tech’s help defenders are always perfectly positioned, which is one reason why they allow the third fewest points per possession (.87) in the country.
The Pick: Texas Tech +3.5
Photo via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports