Trae Young's Freshman Rampage Is About to Face Its Toughest Test

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 5, 2018

Oklahoma guard Trae Young heads up court in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State in Norman, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Oklahoma won 109-89. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

For mere mortals, what the Oklahoma Sooners' Trae Young did against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Wednesday night would be a career performance.

The freshman point guard had 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in a 20-point win over an in-state rival. It was just the 17th time in the past eight seasons someone put up at least 27, 10 and nine in a game.

But for Young, it was a below-average performance.

He entered the night averaging 29.6 points and 10.7 assists per game, so those numbers decreased slightly to still-best-in-the-nation-by-an-absurd-margin 29.4 and 10.6, respectively. Factor in six turnovers and poor shooting7-of-17 from the field; 1-of-6 from three-point range—and this was one of just four times in which Young wasn't regarded as the game MVP.

Long story short: He has quickly set the bar higher than any other men's college basketball player in the three-point era. Eight weeks ago, only a small percentage of the population had even heard of Young. Now, casual hoops fans are making it a point to watch him as often as possible, expecting 30 points and 10 assists.

We keep coming up with new ways to statistically convey how great he has been, but this is my favorite: Were it possible to record negative statistics, Young could tally negative-27 points and negative-10 assists in his next game and would still lead the nation in both points and assists per contest.

Per SB Nation's Mike Rutherford, the last person to finish the season in first place in both points and assists per game was Duke's Dick Groat in 1951-52. Unfathomably, Young has a 16 percent cushion ahead of second place in both categories and seems destined to break NCAA records.

But this Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia (7:15 p.m. ET on ESPN2), Young will face his stiffest test of the season by a country mile.

Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

With one exception, Oklahoma has been exclusively playing teams that are either "not great" or "just plain awful" on defense. Per KenPom, the Sooners have only faced one opponent that ranks in the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

And even the exception, No. 22 Wichita State, hasn't been sharp with its perimeter defense. The Shockers primarily rank that well because of their defensive rebounding and shot-blocking. Away from the paint, they rarely force turnovers and give up a ton of threes. In retrospect, it's no surprise Young and Co. torched them.

West Virginia presents a different situation.

For starters, the Mountaineers are almost unbeatable in Morgantown. They are 5-1 in their last six home games against AP Top 25 teams, including wins over No. 1 Kansas in 2015-16, as well as No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Kansas last season. They haven't been tested a ton this year, but they do have the longest active winning streak in the nation (13 games).

Of course, they're so tough to beat because of the relentless, ball-hawking defense. "Press Virginia" is No. 2 in the nation in turnover percentage. It's the fourth consecutive year this team has ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in that category.

Jevon Carter, Bob Huggins and Daxter Miles Jr.
Jevon Carter, Bob Huggins and Daxter Miles Jr.Ray Thompson/Associated Press

And in spite of all the things Young does spectacularly well, he has serious turnover issues. He gave away the ball six times in his near-triple-double against Oklahoma State on Wednesday night. He had seven turnovers in his previous game against TCUa team that entered play Thursday ranked 231st nationally in defensive turnover percentage.

Young has committed multiple turnovers in every game this season and is averaging 4.2 per contest.

Considering he is used on a higher percent of possessions (39.4) than any other player in KenPom history dating back to 2004 and is doing so for a team that plays at the fourth-highest adjusted tempo, 4.2 turnovers per game isn't that bad. His turnover rate (16.6) is only marginally worse than what Frank Mason III did in winning the Wooden Award last year (14.4).

Still, the last thing you want when trying to win at West Virginia is a lead guard who's a little loose with the ball. Even if Young goes for 25 points and eight assists, if it comes with a millstone of a half dozen or more live-ball turnovers, it may nullify all the good he does on offense.

For what it's worth, one of Mason's worst performances last year came in the road game against West Virginia (15 points on 6-of-16 shooting), so let's make sure not to freak out if Young does post his first dud against the Mountaineers.

If Young has a sensational game in a marquee road win, though, what more can we say about a guy who has already received more national acclaim in 13 games than Doug McDermott did in four years at Creighton?

After Wednesday night's game between the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks, a reporter asked Stephen Curry what he thinks about Young and the comparisons everyone has been making between them for the past few weeks.

LM Otero/Associated Press

"He's unbelievable," said Curry. "The comparisons are what they are, but I know when I turn on a game and watch them play, you're just watching him on the floor, where he is at all times. That kind of magnetism is pretty special in the college game."

That's high praise from a superstar, but can we take a step back and appreciate the absurdity of this moment?

Curry had 32 points in the road win, including the game-winning three-pointer in the closing seconds. It was just his second game back in action after being sidelined by an ankle injury for more than three weeks. Yet, a reporter used this opportunity to ask him about a 19-year-old freshman. And Curry had a well-articulated response.

That's just where we are with Trae Young, the most exciting player in college basketball.

People who don't even care about sports are aware of what he's doing—a rare feat for a sport such as college hoops with a niche following. While I was back home for the holidays, four different friends/relatives asked me about "that Young kid from Oklahoma." One of them wasn't even aware that I cover college basketball. He just assumed because I don't live under a rock, I'd know who he was referencing.

So make sure you watch Young wage war with Press Virginia this Saturday.

There's no telling who's going to ask for your opinion about it.


Kerry Miller covers men's basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.


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