It was only two months ago that Trae Young’s Oklahoma team was ranked fourth in the nation. With the most exciting player in the country leading the way, the Sooners improved drastically from an awful 2017 season, riding a 14-2 start that turned their freshman point guard into a national fascination. Now, however, Oklahoma is in deep trouble. They look like they’ll be one of the weakest teams in next week’s NCAA Tournament play—if they even get selected for the Big Dance.
Since their January wins against Texas Tech and TCU, the Sooners have gone 4-11, ending with a 71-60 loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday night that put them at 18-13 for the year, 8-11 in the Big 12. While Oklahoma has a deep collection of impressive wins, mainly from early in the season, their Tournament prospects aren’t quite guaranteed. Even making a case for them over in-state rivals OSU—who beat the Sooners two out of three times and surpassed their win total last night—isn’t an open-and-shut affair. Oklahoma should still get in, simply on the strength of how unlikely it is to fall from the top 16 to outside the top 68 in just one month, but every other team in the field will want them as a match-up.
So what the heck happened? For one, 14-2 was always a little higher than this team should have been able to stretch. It included one-point and overtime victories against TCU, home games against Tech and OSU—whom they would later lose to on the road—and obviously, plenty of early-season cupcakes. Once a more-fatigued Sooners squad faced down the heart of its conference schedule, they just didn’t have the talent to keep it up.
Young, too, has shown that the questions about his NBA draft potential were always realistic concerns. As defenses gameplan for him and only him, the undersized point guard hasn’t been able to transcend the extra attention, while the circus shots aren’t falling like they used to. He leads the country in turnovers, with his 5.19 per game standing more than one whole giveaway ahead of the next-highest player. And his three-point shot has become extremely erratic. He was 5-of-13 in the Oklahoma State game on Wednesday, and as a more-desperate Young jacks up more and more long prayers early in the shot clock, lines like 1-for-9 and 2-for-11 are much more common. It’s hard to say that the losing is Young’s fault, since most of the guys around him can rarely help or make consistent shots, but in such a short time, the freshman has gone from a dominant force to someone struggling to tread water in big games.
Despite the early exit in the Big 12 tournament, Oklahoma will more than likely get at least one more game to prove themselves Their supply of big wins, both in non-conference play against the likes of USC and Wichita State as well as in the no-games-off Big 12, rivals any in the country. And—for whatever it’s worth to the committee—they’re a team that a neutral fan wants to see compete, way more than a relatively anonymous squad like Nebraska or Marquette. Oklahoma is going to get one more chance to pull itself up before the Trae Young era is over. Maybe, with a whole week off ahead of them, they’ll be able to show something different.