Oklahoma looks vulnerable to an early March exit despite Trae Young's brilliance

The Dagger
Trae Young (AP)
Trae Young (AP)

In addition to putting up jaw-dropping numbers in his lone college season, Oklahoma’s Trae Young may soon have something else in common with former Big 12 freshman phenoms Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley.

He too may have a hard time leading his team deep into March.

Texas was too flawed defensively to advance beyond the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament despite Durant’s 25.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Kansas State shot the ball much too poorly to make it any farther the following year even though Beasley put up 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds per game.

It’s getting easier to envision Young’s Oklahoma team suffering a similar early postseason exit next month after the 17th-ranked Sooners fell for the fifth time in seven games on Monday night. Their 75-73 home loss to 19th-ranked West Virginia highlighted some glaring issues that may limit their ceiling no matter how brilliant Young is.

One of Oklahoma’s season-long problems has been its over-reliance on Young. The nation’s leading scorer and assist maker is a willing passer, but he’s the only reliable shot creator the Sooners have on their roster. For better or worse, Oklahoma must put the ball in his hands time after time and ask him to create scoring chances for himself and his teammates.

Opponents have adjusted to this during Big 12 play by doing everything possible to get the ball out of Young’s hands, whether it’s face-guarding him away from the ball or trapping ball screens to force him to pass. Young has still averaged 32.1 points and 8.5 assists in Big 12 play, but his shooting percentages have diminished and his turnovers have skyrocketed.

West Virginia had to be satisfied with its defense against Young on Monday even though he shook off the effects of an undisclosed illness to score 32 points on 10-for-20 shooting. The Mountaineers held him to only one assist, a product more of both teams’ game plans than anything else.

Oklahoma didn’t set many ball screens for Young because Lon Kruger was wary of West Virginia’s array of traps. The Mountaineers therefore were content to blanket the rest of the Sooners’ scoring threats and task Jevon Carter and Beetle Bolden containing Young 1-on-1.

Anytime Oklahoma’s offense isn’t firing on all cylinders, the Sooners’ other major problem tends to bite them. They simply aren’t a very good defensive team as their ability to alter shots in the paint is offset by sloppy perimeter defense and an inability to force turnovers or limit opponents to one shot.

An oft-cold-shooting West Virginia team that had been skidding lately took advantage of Oklahoma’s shoddy first-half defense. Lamont West knocked down five threes in the opening minutes, helping the Mountaineers build a 10-point halftime lead.

Oklahoma rallied behind Young in the second half, but the Sooners could never tie or take the lead. A chaotic final possession ended with a heavily contested miss by Rashard Odomes in the paint with two seconds left, dooming the home team to another loss.

At 16-7 overall and 6-5 in the Big 12, Oklahoma is now two games back in the loss column of first-place Kansas and Texas Tech and tied in the loss column with Texas and Kansas State.

Are the Sooners an NCAA tournament team? Yes. Could they string together a couple wins if Young catches fire at the right time? Definitely.

But unless Oklahoma improves defensively or finds some other shot creators to ease the burden on Young, it’s easier to envision the Sooners failing to survive the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend than it is them reaching a Final Four.

Durant didn’t survive the second round. Beasley didn’t either. Don’t be surprised if Young meets the same fate.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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