Trae Young’s games against the Alabama Crimson Tide and Baylor Bears have been grand contrasts, and it’s because of the defense his opponents played.
The likelihood of stopping Trae Young is slim. Slowing him down, however, is another story. At any level, the most imposing forces are subject to slow nights if the opposing coach cooks up the proper game plan and his guys execute it to perfection. Through 21 games, Young’s putting up an NCAA-best 30.3 points a night while shooting 45.2 percent from the field. Not every game, though, has been a breeze for him. Contrarily, there have been contests where he’s gone out and looked like he was playing against chairs. We saw that outcome on Tuesday.
The Baylor Bears gave up 44 points to Young on 11-of-20 shooting. It was his fourth 40-point game of the year. Jordan Howard is the only other player in Division I with more than one such game. Young’s total ties him with Jimmer Fredette and Cameron Morse for the second-most since 2011. Marcus Keene leads the way with seven.
Baylor let Young get almost whatever shot he wanted for 40 minutes. There was minimal urgency on the defensive end. Defenders were sagging off too far and didn’t attack the pick-and-roll with much ferocity. On a couple of possessions, Young brought the ball down the court and stepped right into an open three. That’s wholly unacceptable. When they decided to pressure the freshman guard, it was too late, and Young was flying toward the basket. He earned 19 free throw attempts on Tuesday, a new season-high. Baylor’s lackadaisical defense was extremely jarring and nauseating at some points.
Scott Drew coaches an above-average team that surrenders 70.1 points a night, good for 131st in the nation. Outside of Manu Lecomte, who stands at 5-11, Baylor has adequate length around the perimeter and in the interior. What’s more, the Alabama Crimson Tide contained Young just three days earlier.
There have been seven instances thus far where Trae Young has shot less than 40 percent from the field. Five of them have come in conference play (his point totals are in parenthesis):
- Texas Tech – 30.4 (27)
- Oklahoma State – 35.9 (48)
- West Virginia – 36.4 (29)
- Kansas State – 38.1 (20)
- TCU – 39.1 (39)
At the time of this writing, Oklahoma State and TCU are the two teams who are statistically worse on defense than Baylor. It’s not a coincidence Young had his highest point totals in those games. When the others held him in relative check, it was because of their aggressiveness, but they’re also just more defensive-minded than the Bears are. Using that argument means it’s riveting that Alabama held Young to his second-lowest point total of the year.
In the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Young scored 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting. He also attempted just two foul shots. That’s bizarre because Alabama isn’t an elite defense like West Virginia or Texas Tech. They allow 70.0 points a night, which puts them just two slots above Baylor. When Oklahoma squared up with Avery Johnson’s squad, they managed 73 points, their second-lowest total of the year.
Alabama is a team which with Young should’ve had his way. But it was unable to happen because he faced tremendous pressure all afternoon and that prevented him finding any rhythm. Collin Sexton, the second-best point guard in the class, led the attack on Young. And the Tide threw multiple bodies at him on the perimeter. Their unrelenting blitz accomplished two things: it took away Young’s three-ball and prevented him from gaining steam toward the basket.
At 6-2 (and that’s generous), Young has trouble seeing over the defense, but still maintains remarkable vision because of his patience and composure. Alabama wasn’t going to let the potential Player of the Year pick them apart. They wanted to play physically. They yearned to get the ball out of Young’s hand. Sexton took that challenge personally. And it worked.
Sexton is the perfect player to matchup against Young because he’s tall (6-3) with extraordinary athleticism. Throughout the first half, the two guards were chest-to-chest. Alabama was hoping to wear out Young — a philosophy coaches around the NBA employ when facing Stephen Curry. Being that the two are routinely mentioned together, it’s a sound strategy that works.
Not giving Young any room to breathe creates issues for Oklahoma because they don’t have a secondary playmaker. It’s almost impossible to get the offense running when your point guard has to get the ball 40 feet from the basket and then is trapped immediately. Those decisions create turnovers. Furthermore, Alabama was able to keep him off of the foul line. Young did eventually knock down a couple of threes, but they came on possessions where the defense wasn’t as intense.
The Oklahoma Sooners still have nine regular season games left on their slate. They’re going to face Texas Tech and West Virginia and also Texas twice before the conclusion of the campaign. From there, it’s the conference tournament and then the NCAA Tournament, where the lights are going to shine the brightest on Trae Young. Throughout these contests, watch the intensity with which the Sooners’ opponents play. Because Oklahoma is reliant on Young, teams can afford to be overly-aggressive and not get burned.
Hedging the pick-and-roll miles beyond the three-point line doesn’t make sense, but it’s necessary. Having your point guard take the challenge and attempt to disrupt Trae Young is essential. If you’re going to scout the Sooners, watch how Alabama played them. That won’t guarantee a victory, but it’s makes everything much more interesting.
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