By Steve Silverman
Is rebound coming for Trae Young after hitting freshman wall?
Trae Young was the story of the college basketball world in the first half of the season. The freshman guard had lifted the Oklahoma program and was carrying it on his back.
Young was the leading scorer and assist man in the nation, and the Sooners were winning basketball games. Lon Kruger had something positive going on his watch in Norman.
Young looked like sure top-10 draft pick, and he probably remains in that position. However, Young isn’t hitting his three-point shot the way he was earlier in the season, and the Sooners have lost four in a row and seven of their last nine games.
Young is coming off a 4-of-16 shooting game against Texas Tech Tuesday night, and he missed all nine of his three-point shots.
It wasn’t much better in his previous game against Iowa State when he connected on 7-of-21 shots and was just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
He has really struggled from distance since the January page was torn off the calendar. He has made just seven of his last 41 three-point shots.
The Sooners are 16-9 overall but they have slumped to 6-7 in the Big 12, the nation’s best conference from top to bottom. They need to turn things around quickly, and if that is going to happen, Young has to shake out of his slump and start making three-point shots again.
Oklahoma returns home against Texas Saturday before going on the road against Kansas. This would be the right time for Young and the Sooners to turn things around.
Quality, not quantity in the Big Ten
The Big Ten almost always can be expected to get at least six teams in the NCAA tournament, but that’s not the case this year.
It seems that Jim Delany’s conference could be quite limited, and many of the bracketologists don’t see the conference getting in any more than four teams.
While there are 10 days left to the regular season, that number is not likely to change. Some unexpected performances in the Big Ten tournament could change that number, but Big Ten fans may have to settle on Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan as the only participants in March Madness.
Instead of holding the conference tournament in Indianapolis or Chicago, the Big Ten threw a bone to Rutgers and is holding it at Madison Square Garden from February 28 through March 4.
While Purdue is looked at as the only potential No. 1 seed, the Michigan State could possibly supplant the Boilers. The Spartans have won nine games in a row, and will most likely finish the regular season with 12 straight wins. If they can pick up a win or two over Purdue or Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, that could secure a No. 1 seed for Tom Izzo’s team.
Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State have all proven their mettle to this point in the year, and they will likely be heightened because the conference won’t get the respect that it is used to receiving this year.
While quantity will not be in order for the Big Ten in the NCAA tournament, the teams that get in have quite a bit of quality. It would not be a shock if one of those teams made it to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Bearcats keep mowing ‘em down for Cronin
The Cincinnati Bearcats have not gotten a lot of attention this season, but it’s high time for head coach Mick Cronin’s team to get the recognition it deserves.
Here are the facts: The Bearcats have built a 23-2 record and they are a perfect 12-0 in the American Athletic Conference. They have a three-game lead on the Houston Cougars and the Wichita State Shockers, and they have not lost since dropping a 66-60 decision to Florida in early December.
Since then, the Bearcats have reeled off 16 straight victories. This is not a team that will go down the drain easily come tournament time. One of the reasons is its defensive prowess.
Cincinnati is probably the second-best defensive team in the nation besides Virginia. Opponents are harassed continuously, and they are shooting just 24.2 percent from beyond the arc.
Junior guard Jacob Evans is Cincinnati’s leading scorer with an average of 13.4 points per game, and he is shooting 40.2 percent on his three-point attempts. Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are averaging 12.8 and 11.5 points, respectively, and both are shooting well over 50 percent from the field.
Cincinnati is capable of going out and taking control of a game by getting an early lead and then playing suffocating defense. That’s a winning formula that could take them to great heights in March.
Arizona’s Ayton picks up steam in player of the year race
We chronicled Trae Young’s recent troubles at Oklahoma. While he has cooled down considerably, 7-1 freshman DeAndre Ayton has been getting better every game.
In addition to his huge wingspan, Ayton checks in at 260 pounds, and he puts the power in the term power forward. He is averaging 19.5 points per game and is coming away with 10.7 rebounds per night in slightly more than 32 minutes of playing time per game.
More than the numbers, he combines his impressive strength with a shocking quickness that just doesn’t normally go with that kind of bulk.
The key to Ayton’s development is his consistency. He has had double figures in points or rebounds in 24 of Arizona’s 26 games.
Ayton was something of a troubling prospect in his earlier years because he did not always appear to play as hard as he could and there were real problems on the defensive end. His effort has been much better this season, and he has improved defensively – even though there is still a long way to go.
Ayton is picking up steam and he could turn out to be the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.