Most Rhody fans have heard of this Trae Young guy, but what else is there to know about Oklahoma? We reached out to the experts for some answers.
Tomorrow’s the big day. The seven seed Rhode Island Rams will take on 10 seed Oklahoma tomorrow afternoon in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. But before the game tips in Pittsburgh, we wanted to find out a little more about the Sooners. So we reached out to Jack Shields of OU blog Crimson and Cream Machine for a little Q&A. Here’s what he had to say.
Rhody Rampage: So full disclosure, most Rhode Island fans didn’t start paying attention to Oklahoma until late January when the Rams entered the AP Top 25. What did we miss?
Crimson and Cream Machine: Well, Oklahoma came into the season looking to bounce back from a down season in 2016-17, but optimism was in the air for a team that included a five-star freshman PG – Trae Young – and a lot of young talent. They started out okay, earning two victories in three games at the PK80 Invitational and followed that up with a win at then-No. 25 USC. However, the national attention really started to ramp up when this team won convincingly at No. 3 Wichita State. A few days later, Trae Young dished out 22 assists against Northwestern State and officially became a national media darling.
OU opened Big 12 play with a win at then-No. 10 TCU, but the team hasn’t won away from Norman since. This team has usually been good at home and has picked up wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, TCU (twice) and Kansas State at the Lloyd Noble Center. However, this team has been beyond abysmal in any other environment.
RR: Obviously the Sooners have been in a tailspin ever since that time (or thereabouts). Are there any glaring reasons for their struggles?
CCM: I’m not sure where to begin, honestly. Part of it can be summed up by the fact that this team was out-rebounded 53-27 in the team’s most recent loss to Oklahoma State in Kansas City. Another thing to look at is Oklahoma’s three-point percentage away from home since the beginning of January, which is 27.2. That won’t win you many games. Chemistry has been nonexistent, effort has been poor and shot selection has been bad. Lon Kruger is a great coach, but he has simply dropped the ball with this particular team.
RR: Okay, we’re two questions in and we haven’t asked about Trae Young yet. Let’s change that. What’s impressed you most about the star freshman?
CCM: That’s a bit of a moving target. At one point, it was his ability to make his teammates better, but that really hasn’t been the case very often over the past two months. To be perfectly honest, he’s had some very rough outings as of late. I would mention his range, but he takes far too many of those deep threes and hasn’t been making a ton of them. I would mention his ability to stay under control, but he’s made a lot of costly mistakes in conference play. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a fantastic talent, but he hasn’t done those positive things with any consistency in quite some time. Part of that is due to how he’s been defended, and some of it has to do with his teammates. But a lot of it falls on him, as well.
RR: Having seen Oklahoma a handful of times this season, our takeaway was that Young’s supporting cast is hit-or-miss. Is that accurate? Who’s the guy not named Trae that Rhody should look out for?
CCM: That’s accurate, and the venue seems to be the variable there. Brady Manek has had some lights-out shooting performances in Norman but has never been able to get it going on the road – at least not in conference play. Christian James has been a bit more even-keeled but has still done much better at home. Then you have Oklahoma’s two big men – Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace – who are just inconsistent in general. If I had to name one guy, it would probably be Brady Manek. He’s a 6-9 stretch four who has an insanely quick release, and OU is nearly impossible to beat when he’s feeling it.
RR: The national folks have had plenty of hot takes regarding OU’s seed… and even their inclusion in the field period. What are your thoughts on their resume?
CCM: Oklahoma being in the Big Dance makes some sense when considering the committee’s unflinching interest in quadrants, RPI rankings and strength of schedule. OU was 6-9 against Quadrant 1 teams and has a winning record against teams ranked in the top 30 of the RPI. However, they’ve simply been a terrible team since the beginning of February, which should probably count for something.
RR: How have the Oklahoma fan expectations shifted from early in the season to where they are headed into this weekend?
CCM: On Jan. 1, fans expected this team to at least make a run at breaking Kansas’ streak of 13 (now 14) consecutive regular-season conference championships. Leading up to the Selection Sunday, fans were telling me that they didn’t want to see this team in the tournament, and everyone has pretty much checked out. It’s the difference between night and day. Trae Young held our hearts in his hand at one point, but now people only want to talk about spring football practice and recruiting. I don’t really blame them.
RR: On to our team for a second. URI has been known to struggle against zone defenses, so we gotta ask… what style of defense should we expect from the Sooners? And how would you assess their defense overall?
CCM: You’ll see a little bit of zone out of Oklahoma. However, this team struggles with both zone and man. The mental awareness isn’t there, nor is the effort. This is one of the worst defensive basketball teams you will see this season. The perimeter defense is especially bad, but they’ve also been bullied down low at times. I’d expect to see a bit less of the latter since Rhode Island is a bit smaller down low, but your team will score some points on Thursday.
RR: Finally, prediction time: who’s going to get the honor of facing (most likely) Duke on Saturday?
CCM: Rhode Island 88, Oklahoma 76. We’ll leave Duke to y’all. I don’t really want to be forced to look at Grayson Allen’s face anyway.
Thanks to Jack for doing this for us. You can follow Crimson and Cream Machine on Twitter here for a view from the other side.