JOE SULLIVAN | COLLEGE BASKETBALL
Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP
No more hedging on Trae Young for me. He’s the best freshman in the country and an All-American. Here’s what else: He and his Oklahoma teammates are capable of having a Final Four season.
That’s the logical conclusion having watched the Sooners thoroughly outplay Wichita State, 91-83, Saturday night. The game was played in Wichita but not at the Shockers’ campus arena.
Young almost single-handedly pushed the Sooners to victory with an incredible first half, especially early in the game when he hit six of his first nine shots as Oklahoma knocked the Shockers back on their heels from the opening tap and never let them back in the game. Young finished with 29 points and 10 assists.
After the game, Young told reporters that the win ‘‘will open a lot of eyes in the college basketball world.’’
Wichita coach Gregg Marshall was effusive. ‘‘I haven’t coached against a freshman that plays the game at that level,’’ he said. “We tried everything against him. Trae Young is not going to get rattled. He is too good.’’
Young has some talented teammates, most notably Brady Manek, a 6-foot-9-inch freshman from Harrah, Okla., who’s a deadly long-range shooter. Plus, there’s more offense from Christian James and defense and rebounding from Khadeem Lattin.
The man on the bench, Lon Kruger, is one of the best in the business and underrated probably because of his understated demeanor. He’s taken five schools to the NCAA Tournament and has advanced to the Final Four twice. Maybe there’s a third time just ahead.
Looking back on last week in college basketball:
Elevator going up:
Auburn: The Fightin’ Barkleys looked great in beating Middle Tennessee decisively, despite the close final score. They are 9-1 and displaying no effects of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, which left them without two players, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy. It’s Auburn’s best start since 1999-2000.
Bradley: At one time, Bradley was one of the great mid-major programs, but those days are long gone. This year there is some improvement; the Braves are 9-2 and off to their best start since 1985, when they finished 32-3 behind the superlative Hersey Hawkins.
Louisiana Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns have won six in a row and nine of their last 10, including a nice rivalry win over Louisiana Tech. They might be a threat in the Sun Belt.
UMass: When writing about the UMass-Georgia game, I never thought the Minutemen had a chance to win even though I was impressed with their 5-5 start. Then they won pretty easily, 72-62. What a job first-year coach Matt McCall has done. Plus, he has his maroon pants, the story of which is detailed nicely by the estimable Matt Vautour of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Oregon State: The Beavers have won six in a row, their longest winning streak in 13 years and one more victory than they had all of last season. The Beavs are led by the sons of coaches. The leading scorer is Tres Tinkle, son of head coach Wayne; then there are the Thompson brothers, Stephen Jr. and Ethan, sons of assistant coach Stephen Sr., who was an outstanding player at Syracuse.
Rutgers: The schedule helped Rutgers compile a decent early season record in recent years before they were crushed in Big Ten play. This year is different as evidenced by Saturday’s 71-65 victory over Seton Hall at a raucous, sold-out crowd at The RAC. Freshman point guard Geo Baker looks like he could be program-changing player.
Stephen F. Austin: When Brad Underwood left Nacogdoches, Texas, for Oklahoma State (and then Illinois), new coach Kyle Keller was under a lot of pressure to match his record. Underwood’s teams won 89 games and lost only once in the Southland Conference in three years. Keller’s first season was a so-so 18-15. He’s adjusted, however. After Saturday’s big win at LSU, the Lumberjacks are 10-1. Keller has worked 27 years as an assistant, mostly in the Southwest and most recently at Texas A&M.
Escalator going down:
BU: It’s been up and down for the Terriers and last week was down with losses to UMass Lowell and Elon (at home). They’re 4-6 and play at Harvard Thursday.
Charlotte: Things haven’t been the same for the Fightin’ Cornbreads since they joined the Atlantic 10 and then left for Conference USA because of football. A once-proud program and a one-time Final Four participant (led by Cedric Maxwell) is stuck in neutral. The Cornbreads are 3-6 and have lost four straight. It cost coach Mark Price his job. Price, a great player at Georgia Tech and a 12-year NBA player, never got things going. I’m not sure anyone could.
George Mason: Not sure what happened to the team that gave Louisville a big challenge back in November, but the Patriots have lost four of their last five to fall to 5-7. The last two losses, both at home, were especially bad, Georgia Southern (74-51) and Penn State (72-54).
Loyola of Chicago: The Ramblers gave their fans an incredible letdown by losing to Milwaukee, 73-56, after pulling off a big upset in Florida.
Mississippi: The Rebels have lost four of their last five, including a home loss to Illinois State. In the improved SEC, they’re going to be in trouble.
This week’s Final Four: Villanova, Oklahoma, Michigan State, North Carolina.
This week’s national champion: Villanova.
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