Trae Young no longer a shoo-in for college Player of the Year

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 19: Trae Young /

One reason for the dramatic decline of Oklahoma basketball since the middle of January is that Trae Young has not been the same player he was earlier in the season.

It’s not that the nation’s leader in scoring and assists is any less talented or capable than he was in the first half of the season, but rather that his notoriety and high-scoring performances finally caught up with him. Big 12 teams discovered if you stop or slow down Young, by denying him the ball and making him work hard for his shots, you stop the Sooners.

The Sooner do-it-all point guard probably has a better chance of becoming the first freshman player to lead the nation in both scoring and assists than he does of becoming the third Oklahoma player to be named Player of the Year in college basketball.

That’s not to say that Young won’t win the college game’s top individual honor. The problem is, other qualified candidates are getting better and stronger as the season winds down, while OU’s superstar is looking worn down and struggling. And the frustration he is experiencing is highly noticeable all over his face.

Young in still the nation leader is scoring, averaging 28.3 points a game, but he has been under that in five of his last six games, and scored a career-low 11 points in his last outing, at Kansas earlier this week. The nation’s most talked about player this season is now being talked about for reasons other than being the prohibitive favorite to win college basketball’s top individual honor: Player of the Year.

In his last four games, Young is shooting 33.3 percent or worse and is averaging just 19.5 points a game.

He scored 20 or more points in 18 of his first 19 games this season for the Sooners. In his last eight games, however, seven of them losses, Young has gone over 20 points only four times.

“I just haven’t been knocking down shots. A lot of them have been going in and out, just short or long,” the Sooner freshman point guard told Ryan Aber of the Oklahoma City Oklahoman after the Kansas game.

"“I’ve played a lot of basketball throughout my life, and it’s not always been good,” Young said. “I’m not too worried. This happens to everybody. I’ll be fine.”"

Young may be saying the right things and trying to regain his confidence, but Sooner fans aren’t as convinced as the young star is. There is something to be said about wearing down on the back end of a long college season after playing almost 37 minutes a game.

The pressure placed on OU’s super freshman for most of the season as the country’s best player on a good, but not great, Oklahoma team may be taking its toll. Young is still an exceptional talent and possess skills that most college players just dream about. But we as fans forget that he hasn’t even been out of high school a full year and he is, despite all of his incredible talent, only human.

“Usually when stretches go on like this, there’s always that one game or that moment when it clicks on,” said Young. The OU coaches and fans are wishful that when the time comes, it isn’t a momentary thing.

The Sooners need to win two of their final three regular-season games – two of which will be at home – to avoid becoming a bubble team and in danger of being left out of the NCAA Tournament, for which Oklahoma was considered a lock just a month ago.

Young and the Sooners need to finish out the next three weeks strong. Otherwise, all the hype and hoopla we were hearing earlier in the season will become nothing more than a snapshot in time.