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Oklahoma’s dream season with Trae Young is going up in smoke

The Sooners have lost nine of 11 and are sliding down the bracket at an alarming rate.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma basketball won only 11 games last season in the first year of the post-Buddy Hield era. The Sooners seemed primed for a multi-year rebuild with a young team lacking proven productivity and any semblance of returning star power.

The meteoric ascent of Trae Young changed all that. It’s easy to forget now, but Young was not considered one of the top-20 recruits in the incoming freshman class. He wasn’t projected as a one-and-done, either. It only took him a few games to prove he was the most dynamic offensive player in the sport.

By the time Oklahoma won its 11th game this season, it was only Dec. 30. The Sooners ascended as high as No. 4 in the polls, Young became a household name even to casual fans and suddenly a return trip to the Final Four like the one Hield powered two years earlier seemed perfectly plausible.

Maybe Oklahoma’s dream season was always too good to be true. After falling at home to Texas 77-66 on Saturday afternoon and losing to Kansas 104-74 on Monday, the Sooners have now lost nine of their last 11 games. Young is still a star, but he’s no longer the golden boy he appeared to be a month ago.

This is what’s wrong with Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has no other creators outside of Young

The tide started to turn for Trae Young after an overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Jan. 20. Young finished with a season-high 48 points, but he took 39 shots to get there. The criticism of that performance was always overblown — Young hit 8-of-20 threes in that game — but it highlighted a more pressing issue for the Sooners.

Outside of Young, no one else on the roster could be counted on to manufacture offense.

There just isn’t Final Four-level talent on Oklahoma next to Young. The Sooners do not have another starter who was a top-100 recruit out of high school:

Trae Young’s supporting cast

Name Recruiting ranking (247 Sports) Year Position
Name Recruiting ranking (247 Sports) Year Position
Christian James 193 Junior Guard
Rashard Odomes 133 Junior Guard
Khadeem Lattin 130 Junior Center
Brady Manek 117 Freshman Forward

Manek has had a solid freshman season. So has Kameron McGusty, who entered the program as the No. 41 player in his class. But the unfortunate reality is the overall talent level on this team just doesn’t meet the standards for one that was once ranked in the top five.

The fact that Oklahoma still has an offense that ranks in the top-20 nationally in efficiency feels like the ultimate validation of Young. With a lack of proven scorers around him, Young has carried an immense burden all season.

The defense is struggling

The Sooners’ defense ranks only No. 90 in efficiency. They’ve given up at least 80 points in 10 of their 14 conference games in the Big 12. It’s a defense that doesn’t force turnovers and allows too many threes.

Young is a liability on the defensive end, and his penchant for turnovers leads to a lot of easy buckets the other way. Lattin is a dependable rim protector, but the rest of the roster lacks the length and quickness to lock down on the perimeter.

You can score on Oklahoma, and teams have been doing exactly that all season.

Young can’t do everything himself every night

Young is still leading college basketball in points and assists per game, a feat that has been done just once before. He’s still the front-runner for national player of the year. But Oklahoma’s recent losing streak has shown how difficult it is to carry an entire team every night.

Young missed 21 straight threes before he finally got one to fall in the second half against Texas. He’s turning the ball over 5.4 times per game, a symptom of knowing he has to play as aggressively as possible to get the offense in motion. He’s now shot under 40 percent from the field in nine Big 12 games this year.

Young has received so much attention from the national media that the main conversation around him now involves a lot of backlash. That is ESPN’s fault more than Young’s. He’s still a terrific player putting up historic numbers.

That alone just isn’t enough to make Oklahoma a real contender. That No. 4 seed the Sooners received in the Selection Committee’s sneak preview looks worse and worse with each passing week.