Oklahoma basketball: Up and down play has stalled Sooners momentum

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 06: Rashard Odomes
MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 06: Rashard Odomes /

We all know how quickly a good thing can turn less so. That notion applies to Oklahoma basketball in the 2017-18 season as we get set to begin the critical month of February.

The Sooners began the season going 12-1 and drew notice as one of the hottest teams in the country, featuring the nation’s best player in freshman sensation Trae Young and the country’s highest scoring offense, averaging nearly 95 points a game.

Those dozen wins included victories over three ranked teams. The only blemish to Oklahoma’s season record at that point was a nine-point loss to Arkansas in the opening round of the PK80 Invitational Tournament.

The week of Jan. 15, after a pair of victories over Bedlam rival Oklahoma State and a second win over a top-20-ranked TCU, things were still going good for the Sooners, who stood at 14-2 and ranked No. 4 in the country by the Associated Press.

Since that point, however, the Sooners have gone 2-3, with all three losses coming to unranked teams on the road. Oklahoma is averaging a nation-best 90.7 points a game, but in the last five outings, the Sooners are averaging just 81.2 per game.

Oklahoma has lost four consecutive road games, and they face another difficult assignment this weekend, when they travel to Austin to play a Texas Longhorn team that is playing very well right now. The Sooners are a perfect 11-0 at home, but if they are going to stay in contention for one of the top-four seeds in the Big 12 postseason tournament, let alone have a shot at unseating Kansas for the conference regular-season crown, they are going to have to steal some wins away from home.

After taking 39 shots in registering a season-high 48 points in OU’s 83-81 overtime loss at Oklahoma State a couple of weeks ago, Trae Young has appropriately reeled it in some as far as his shot selection and is looking to employ his exceptional ball distribution skills to get his teammates more involved.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

The Sooners are a better team when their freshman superstar doesn’t put it all on his shoulders and make the OU offense one-dimensional. Oklahoma didn’t become the highest scoring team in the country with Young’s output alone. But his supporting cast must be able to knock down shots with greater consistency.

And while we’re on the subject of offensive contributions and consistency, the Sooners absolutely need to get more out of their reserves when they are in the game giving the starters a breather. In Tuesday night’s heart-stopping 98-96 home win over Baylor, OU’s bench players contributed nada in the scoring column in a collective 34 minutes of action.

In the Sooners’ last three losses, their reserves scored a combined 21 points. That is absolutely unacceptable for a team that not only desires to make the NCAA Tournament, but hopes to play beyond the first weekend.

That brings us to another sore subject as far as Oklahoma’s chances for continued success as the regular season winds down and they get ready for the postseason. Just as the Sooners’ high-octane football team was plagued by a suspect defense, defensive play is also the Achilles heal of the basketball team.

The Sooners like to play fast, which generally lends itself to a high-scoring game, but when shots aren’t falling for the good guys, or they are forced into turnovers, it can also lead to plenty of transition points going the other way for their opponents.

Oklahoma leads the country in scoring offense, but they are dead last in the Big 12 and rank 337th among NCAA Division I teams, giving up 82.1 points a game. Oklahoma’s opponents have scored 89 or more points in six games this season, and 15 times in 22 games, the Sooners have given up at least 80 points. I don’t need to tell you that is not good defense.

OU’s opponents are shooting at a 44-percent clip from the field, which also ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 and ranks 184th nationally. At this stage of the season, and especially in the postseason, when the level of competition increases dramatically, you cannot expect to win by outscoring your opponent. You have to be able to defend, as well.

Oklahoma is a very good, but not great, offensive basketball team. But their ability to defend is another matter entirely. This shortcoming will leave the Sooners short in the Big 12 championship chase and is likely to shorten their stay in the postseason if they don’t shore things up, and quickly, on the defensive end of the court.

The Sooners lackluster 5-4 record in the month of January is mostly the result of limited and inconsistent offensive contribution from Trae Young’s supporting cast and defensive ball pressure that too often is non-existent.

Young is an extraordinary talent, but he can’t get it done all by himself. Basketball is one of the ultimate team games, and the OU men have not been playing together and off of one another as well as they could and should in recent weeks.

defense wins championships/comparison to football