Oklahoma took college basketball by Sooner storm over the season’s first two months, winning with a freewheeling style and Trae Young’s nightly one-man show.
Once the calendar flipped to 2018, the Sooners hit a Big 12 roadblock.
College basketball’s toughest conference has taken a toll on Oklahoma and its fabulous freshman, pushing the Sooners onto the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“It’s been tough for a while,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We’ve got to keep battling. It’s not going to get easier.”
Picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, the Sooners were one of college basketball’s biggest surprises early in the season behind Young.
Playing with a Steph Curry-like confidence and shooting range, Young racked up points, assists and highlight-reel plays as the Sooners rolled to one victory after another. Oklahoma opened the season 12-1 and climbed to No. 4 in the AP Top 25, appearing to be a serious threat to end Kansas’ bid for a 14th straight Big 12 title.
Oklahoma won four of its first five Big 12 games, but has fallen into a rut since then. A blowout loss to the Jayhawks on Monday was the Sooners’ sixth straight and ninth in 11 games.
Young still leads the nation in points per game (28.3) and assists (9.2), but teams have made him work much harder for whatever he gets.
Oklahoma (16-11, 6-9) now finds itself teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble, with three games left before the conference tournament.
“There’s no concern,” Young said. “Those games aren’t moving. We know we have to win at least two, but we’re going to try to win three games and that’s our goal, but we’ve got to get better.”
ON THE RISE
North Carolina State. The Wolfpack (19-9, 9-6 ACC) were in bubble danger after losing consecutive games to Virginia Tech and then No. 21 North Carolina, but a three-game winning streak should put them in good position for an NCAA Tournament berth. North Carolina State avoided a resume-killing loss this week by rolling over Boston College.
Mississippi State. Losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt put a dent in the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament chances. Wins over Ole Miss and fellow bubble team Texas A&M will help, but Mississippi State (20-8, 8-7 SEC) may still need to do a little more to get in.
St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies (21-6, 11-4 Atlantic 10) have picked the right time to go on a run. St. Bonaventure has won nine straight heading into Saturday’s game against Virginia Commonwealth, a run that includes a victory over No. 19 Rhode Island. Keep winning and the Bonnies can distance themselves from earlier losses to Niagara and Saint Joseph’s.
Utah. The Utes (18-9, 10-6 Pac-12) needed a win over UCLA to keep from bouncing off the NCAA bubble and pulled it off, beating the Bruins 84-78 in Salt Lake City. Utah has won five straight and gets another chance to resume boost on Saturday, facing fellow bubble team Southern California.
Louisville. The Cardinals (18-10, 8-7) had opportunities for resume-building wins their past two games, only to fall short against North Carolina and No. 5 Duke. Louisville has dropped five of seven and can’t afford a loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. A win over No. 1 Virginia next week would obviously be huge.
Nebraska. A loss to Illinois last Sunday could put a dent in the Cornhuskers’ chances. They bounced back with a victory over Indiana, but a loss to an Illini team that’s 3-14 in the Big Ten will not look good to the selection committee. Nebraska (21-9, 12-5 Big Ten) has no notable wins and a weak strength of schedule (286th), so it may need to beat Penn State and have a good run in the conference tournament.
Creighton. The Bluejays (19-9, 8-7 Big East) should still be in decent shape, but consecutive losses to Marquette and Butler make their margin for error a little thinner. A win over No. 3 Villanova on Saturday would be a huge boost.
Texas A&M. It’s been a wild ride for the Aggies (17-11, 6-9 SEC) this season and it continued this week with a loss to Mississippi State. Once up to No. 5 in the AP Top 25, Texas A&M has lost three straight since Duane Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
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