It is no longer football time in Oklahoma. Following the largest blown lead in Rose Bowl history, Sooner fans wandered the streets of Pasadena in sadness but eventually came to the realization that they actually have a pretty good basketball team, thus allowing them to care about hoops once again. Now, in front of a sellout crowd at Lloyd Noble Center, the stage is set for round one of two in bedlam basketball.
Let’s get to the preview.
Who: No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, OK
When: Jan. 3, 2018 - 8:00 p.m. CT
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
If you exist and live in the state of Oklahoma, you’ve probably heard of Trae Young by now. The guy grew up in Norman and drew all kinds of Steph Curry comparisons playing high school ball for Norman North and eventually chose OU over OK State and Kansas. Going in to this season, I didn’t think Young was a one-and-done talent because I didn’t think he was near athletic enough. It turns out, athleticism means a lot less when you can pull up from literally anywhere on the court. While there are some question marks defensively and athletically for Young in terms of how his game translates to the NBA, one thing is abundantly clear, he’s the best player in college basketball.
Young is currently averaging 29.6 points per game, 10.7 assists, and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. He leads the NCAA in points and assists per game and makes shots most college players wouldn’t even think about taking. Perhaps the scariest thing about Young is that even when he’s cold he is as good as anyone at creating shot opportunities for his teammates.
Young has some help too. Junior guard Christian James is averaging 13.1 points per game and is shooting 51 percent from the field. Leading the way on the boards for the Sooners is Senior forward Khadeem Lattin with 7.3 rebounds per game. Freshman, Brady Manek has often been forgotten for the Sooners as the attention has been on Young. Manek is a solid 3-point threat that rarely makes mistakes and had great games against Wichita State and USC, two Top 25 teams.
Against West Virginia, the Cowboys were 25-of-36 from the free throw line. The Pokes were solid at being aggressive and getting to the line but struggled once they got there. This is surprising as the Cowboys rank seventh nationally from the stripe, shooting 78.9 percent as a team. I don’t expect them to struggle from the line like that again.
The most exciting prospect of this game is watching Oklahoma State’s high pressure defense go up against Oklahoma’s fast paced offense. Watching the OU offense is almost like watching a beta version of the Golden State Warriors. The Sooners are ranked No. 1 in the nation in points per game, dropping 94.7 per game. They like to go up and down the floor fast and often look to shoot early in the shot clock. They get hot in random spurts which can bury opponents. It’s worth noting that the Pokes are great at forcing turnovers, forcing 17.1 turnovers per game and Trae Young’s biggest weakness has been turning the ball over. He is averaging around 4.0 a game.
Coach Mike Boynton has installed more spread motion in the Cowboy offense lately, something we saw a lot of last season under Underwood. Jeffrey Carroll has certainly benefited from this guard-friendly offense as he is averaging 19 points per game since the Florida State game when it was installed. It goes without saying the Cowboys need a big day from Carroll if they are going to have a shot in Norman. Guards will need to be aggressive on the boards and give Mitchell Solomon and Yankuba Sima some help because the offense calls for four guards and one big.
It will be sophomore guard Lindy Waters’ second homecoming in Norman. He will also be reuniting with Young - his high school teammate. Both went to Norman North, and the Cowboys will need another great game from him if they hope to hang with the Sooners. Last year, Waters had 11 points, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Another good shooting night from Waters will help alleviate some pressure off of Carroll.
Boynton praised the versatility of Waters, mentioning the flexibility he brings to the offense.
"So he gives us a sense of versatility in our lineups that we can play different ways. We can go big with him at the point guard. We can play smaller with him as a power forward, and still be able to play pretty seamlessly."
I’m not feeling great about this one. As of now, I think we split the series and take one in Stillwater, but the Sooners have too much firepower and will be playing in front of an angry, sold out crowd on Wednesday night.