Match-Up More Than Simply Mano-A-Mano
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Both Bob Huggins and Jevon Carter are correct.
West Virginia’s top 10 showdown against No. 7 Oklahoma is certainly about more than Carter’s match-up versus point guard Trae Young. But when OU features a probable first round NBA selection against the The No. 6 Mountaineers’ National Defensive Player of the Year, well, that’s going to generate sparks on and off the floor.
Young leads the NCAA in both points (29.4) and assists (10.6) per game and has flashed some of the best pure instinctual play in recent memory. Huggins has called the 19-year-old’s passing ability nothing short of terrific while praising Young’s ability to not only create his own shot, but that of others. That’s a rare trait at the collegiate level, especially in getting teammates the ball in advantageous positions. But that’s exactly what Young has done in shredding the early competition.
“They probably have the best player in the country and they would be really good if they didn’t have him,” Huggins said. “They have experience and guys who have made big plays in this league. He’s the best I have seen since Jason Kidd.”
That dates to the early 1990s, when Huggins’ Cincinnati team faced Kidd’s alma mater in Cal. Kidd’s 220 assists as a freshman set a new program record, while his 110 steals were an NCAA mark as the most by a freshman. It was that adroit play on both sides that earned Kidd major praise, and what Huggins sees as the similarities in Young’s game.
“He is really, really good off the ball,” Huggins said of Young’s defense. “He’s way better off the ball than on the ball. He makes sensational plays. He has such a great feel for the game. He made plays that broke the Oklahoma State game open on defense. It wasn’t offense. He ran through balls and got them easy baskets and got them going.”
Still, there’s far more to the contest than merely a one-on-one match-up. It’s also a contrast of how an Oklahoma team that thrives on solid shooting and long offensive rebounds that morph into open jumpers can handle West Virginia’s pressure versus how the No. 6 Mountaineers can find interior scoring against the likes of Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace. The pair of forwards each have 25 blocks this season – Sags Konate has 35 by comparison while WVU has totaled 71 overall – and serve as a sort of safety blanket that allows the rest of the Sooners to take additional chances in attacking passing lanes and with on-ball defense.
“They have two of the best rim protectors in the country,” Huggins said. “(Young) gets away with not being great on the ball because he has those two guys back there protecting the rim.”
They key for West Virginia is to limit Young’s ability to get others involved. That means narrowing passing chances, maintaining pressure in the face of the freshman and tapering his field of vision. The Mountaineers need to cut the court in half to eliminate offensive options – a staple of what Huggins always wants to do on defense – and hound the Sooners into working for every opportunity from freeing oneself to receive passes to gaining positioning for better looks.
That’s easier said than done because of of the combination of Oklahoma’s size, Young’s vision and ability to create and the team’s penchant for hitting open looks. The Sooners lead the Big 12 in scoring offense at 95.8 points per game – more than 8.5 points ahead of any other school – while being second in offensive rebounding (behind only WVU) and third in overall (50.6) and three-point field goal percentage (40.5).
Arguably the best overall job slowing Oklahoma thus far – aside from OU’s 92-83 loss to Arkansas in which the Sooners had 19 TOs and shot 27.6 from 3pt) – has come from TCU. The Horned Frogs forced Young into seven turnovers and limited the guard to 9-of-23 shooting. Young, however, had 14 assists and scored a career-best 39 points, including a pair of free throws in the final eight seconds for the deciding 90-89 margin.
“I think (TCU head coach) Jamie Dixon had the best solution,” Huggins said. “He just said ‘If he gets his average (points), fine, but you can’t give him 10 assists. You have to cut his assists down.’ There is some merit to that. (TCU) played them very well and he still got his, but he wasn’t able to facilitate as well as he normally does.
“When I was at K-Stat we played against Kevin Durant. He scored the ball, but he didn’t get other people shots. This guy is so good because he gets other people shots. Those bigs live around the rim and he gets them the ball. He can really pass. He’s not good; he’s terrific.”