By draining deep 3s and exhibiting ball-handling wizardry, Trae Young has become the hottest topic in college basketball.
The Wall Street Journal nailed it this week by calling Young “the first member of The Curry Generation.” Young grew up watching Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, who’s only 29, and mimics his electrifying style of play. Countless players will try to copy Curry and all but a few will fail. It’s far from easy.
It was not easy to see this coming, either. Two months ago, Young was not a topic at all. Blue Ribbon yearbook — the most comprehensive and respected preseason publication — excluded Young from its list of the nation’s top 20 players and ranked Oklahoma seventh in the 10-team Big 12 Conference. Now, the Sooners are ranked No. 7 in the nation and Young is the favorite for Player of the Year.
Young, who turned 19 in September, is the nation’s leader in scoring (29.4 points per points) and assists (10.6) while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. The Sooners top the nation in scoring offense at 95.8 points per game because coach Lon Kruger was sharp enough to realize the gift he was getting and plotted to run his entire offense through Young.
In 2016, Oklahoma reached the Final Four — where it fell to Villanova by 44 points — by riding shooting guard Buddy Hield. Last year, post-Hield and pre-Young, the Sooners finished 11-20. Kruger recruited Young out of Norman North High School, where he averaged 42.6 points as a senior, and the 6-foot-2 point guard has revived his hometown team.
Soon, Young will be a one-and-done freshman off to the NBA, but he’ll be entertaining to watch for the next three months.
I recently bet Oklahoma at 60-1 odds to win the NCAA championship, and it’s still playable at odds in the 40-1 range.
The Sooners (12-1) picked up road victories over Wichita State and Texas Christian before running over Oklahoma State 109-89 on Wednesday. Young totaled 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds against the Cowboys, but he also shot 1-for-6 from 3 and had six turnovers.
Young is about to face what could be his toughest test yet. Oklahoma takes its 10-game win streak to West Virginia. The No. 6 Mountaineers, who have won 13 in a row, feature Jevon Carter, arguably the nation’s best perimeter defender. Bob Huggins’ swarming defense yields only 64.9 points per game. Kruger’s offense has produced 82 points or more in each game.
I’ll go with defense and the home court and lay 4½ points (up from the opener of 3½) with West Virginia. Seven more college basketball plays from today's 97-game betting rotation (home team in CAPS):
* SYRACUSE (-6) over Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are without their top two players, Bonzie Colson and senior point guard Matt Farrell, who average a combined 37.3 points. Mike Brey is a great coach, but he would need to be a magician to win this game. Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard should carry the Orange to the cover.
* Nebraska (plus-18½) over PURDUE: Tim Miles is coaching the Cornhuskers into a quietly good team. Nebraska upset Minnesota, lost by 10 at Creighton, lost by one to Kansas and just routed Northwestern 70-55 on the road. The Boilermakers crushed Arizona by 25 in the Bahamas and have pummeled most opponents during their 10-game win streak, but this line looks too high.
* BUTLER (-2½) over Seton Hall: A week after running all over then-No. 1 Villanova in a 101-93 win, the surging Bulldogs return to Hinkle Fieldhouse for another Big East test. Kelan Martin (19.3 points per game) and Kamar Baldwin (15.4) lead the Butler offense. The Pirates are on the road for the first time since losing at Rutgers on Dec. 16.
* Indiana (plus-7) over MINNESOTA: The suspension of senior center Reggie Lynch (10.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.1 blocks) is a major setback for the Gophers. Jordan Murphy, the Big Ten’s scoring and rebounding leader, has posted a double-double in all 16 games. The Hoosiers’ effort was questioned in their Tuesday loss at Wisconsin, so expect coach Archie Miller to get more out of his players in this spot.
* COLORADO STATE (plus-3) over Fresno State: The Rams missed a shot at a home upset of San Diego State on Tuesday, but Larry Eustachy gets another shot here. The Bulldogs have no quality wins in the past month and are off a disappointing overtime loss at Utah State.
* Kansas (-1) over TCU: The small road favorite will be viewed as the square side, but so be it. Bill Self will ride the Jayhawks hard to bounce back from a lopsided loss to Texas Tech, and Devonte Graham should be the best player on the floor. Kansas won at Texas a week ago. The Horned Frogs are in the middle of a brutal five-game stretch in the Big 12, a conference with no soft spots on the schedule.
* IDAHO STATE (-8) over Northern Arizona: After opening 0-5, the Bengals are 7-1 in their past eight games. The Lumberjacks (3-13) lack offensive talent and were chopped down 95-55 at Weber State two days ago.