Jalen Brunson Should be Player of the Year: Making a Case

Trae Young has been doing things we have not seen in college basketball. If the season ended today he would lead the country in points and assists. No one in college basketball has done this for a whole season. Young’s play this year in college basketball has been very similar to the MVP campaign Russell Westbrook had last season in the NBA. They both put up numbers that very few before them have, but also used a high volume of shots at times to do so. There are some great games, an there are some sloppy games. Young’s year is not quite as Jekyll & Hyde was Westbrook’s was, but there is some inconsistency.

There’s no doubt what Young is doing is special. His freshman counterparts Marvin Bagley and DeAndre Ayton are having extraordinary seasons themselves, but half the country has no idea just how good they have been because they don’t compare to some of the things Young has done. A month ago most people would say the gap between Young and second place for Player of the Year was extremely large. They probably would have been right. Fast forward and that gap is much closer than many think. Here’s why Villanova’s Jalen Brunson deserves consideration for Player of the Year.

Making The Case

From first glance, Brunson’s numbers don’t compete with Young’s at all. He’s averaging 19 points to Young’s 29, 5 assists to Young’s 9, and one less rebound per game. As Stephen A. Smith would say….HOWEVER, Brunson is a more efficient and smarter player. That’s not entirely fair to Young since he is two years younger than Brunson. Brunson has a turnover-assist ratio of 5.0 to 1.5. The most he’s turned the ball over in a game this year is three times.Young has a T/A ratio of 9.3-5.3.  And while Young has had a crazy 22 assist game, he’s also has a 12 turnover game against Kansas State.

Young’s points per game are so much higher than Brunson’s because he shoots a high volume of shots every night, and that’s okay. Oklahoma is built differently from Villanova, they need Young to do that in order to win. Yong averages 19.5 shots a game. This is not including the 39 he took against Oklahoma State, or the 9 against Kansas. Those two games are extreme outliers to his typical shot output. Brunson has only eclipsed 20+ shots twice. Again, the Wildcats don’t need him to do that in order to be the best team in America.

In games where he’s gotten a majority of shots (15+), Brunson is averaging 26 points per game, seven higher than his season average. In those games, he shot 57% from the floor. Is it likely he would sustain that percentage over a whole season if he got as many shots as Young does? Doubtful. But he’s still shooting 56% from the floor on the season and 48% from three, compared to Young’s 45% and 39% respectively. Whether he’s shooting 20 times or 7 times, Brunson has shot it well.

Lastly, you can’t discount the fact that Villanova is the #1 team in the country. This should not be the deciding factor obviously, since not all teams are created equal. But if players can be penalized in these awards for putting up great numbers on bad teams, why shouldn’t they be rewarded for putting up good numbers on great teams. Brunson’s numbers are good. Any team would take 19 points, 5 assists and just 1.5 turnovers a game from their starting point guard. Villanova is a great team; they are rolling through everyone they play, including nationally ranked and NCAA tournament bound teams. Brunson is the most important piece to that success.

The Player of the Year voting comes down to if you think a great player on a good team should win, or if a good player on a great team should win. Jalen Brunson is very, very good. He’s not as viral as Trae Young has been, and so it seems like he is flying under the radar. Villanova is rolling through the Big East, a strong Big East, again, and he is a big reason why. He may not have the crazy numbers and single game performances that Young has had on the surface, but a closer look shows that this race is, and should be, closer than many think.

How Much Blame Should Bill Self Get in Last Night’s Kansas Loss?

Photo via 247Sports

In the week leading up to Kansas and Oklahoma’s Super Tuesday match up on ESPN, each team had different storylines. For Kansas, they took over sole possession of first place, something no one expected at the start of Big 12 play. For Oklahoma, they dropped two games, and the narrative was ‘Is Trae Young forcing too much?’ Both storylines changed Tuesday, when the Sooners topped the Jayhawks 85-80 in Norman.

Kansas held a 10 point lead with under 10 minutes to play in the second half. After a Svi Mykhailiuk made three pointer, KU looked to be in control. But then, Matt Freeman checked in. Freeman, a sophomore, plays 12 minutes for the Sooners, but he changed the game when he came on the floor. How does a player change the course of a game while finishing with zero points, zero assists and zero rebounds? He fouls. A lot.

Freeman fouled out in just two minutes of play, as Lon Kruger and Oklahoma resorted to the “Hack-A-Shaq” game plan on KU’s Udoka Azubuike. Seemingly unable to stop the Jayhawk offense, Kruger decided to make Azubuike, a 38% free throw shooter, beat them down the stretch. Azubuike went 1-7 from the line. That left the door for Christian James and Brady Manek to drain huge three pointers, and push Oklahoma to a win.

The loss gives the Sooners a much needed sigh of relief, but for Kansas, they are left with a sour taste in their mouths. Did Bill Self make the right decision to leave in his center during such a crucial situation? After the game, Self said it was not the right decision, but said it was a confidence move for his player. While a win would have set the Jayhawks up nicely for a 14th straight Big 12 title, I think Self made the right move in this scenario.

Defending the Head Coach’s Move

Kansas has a collection of experienced guards, and inexperienced post players. Azubuike, albeit a sophomore, only played in 11 games last season due to a hand injury. As a result, Self needs to know what he can get out of, basically his only legitimate post player, in crunch time. Azubuike leads the team in rebounding, and has has one of the highest field goal percentages in the country. He’s a guy you want on the court in end of game scenarios for a number of reasons. While winning the conference is great, coaches are judged, fair or not, by how they do in March. In order for Self to succeed in March, he needs to know how he can handle end of game situations with this KU team. It would be better to learn this lesson now than in March, right?

Aside from that, Self’s options were thin. Last night may have been an exception, as backup center Mitch Lightfoot had a strong game. But in general, Lightfoot is wildly inconsistent when he’s on the court. He can sometimes be soft down low, and doesn’t rebound as well as Azubuike. For a Kansas team that already struggles to rebound the basketball, you want your leading rebounder in there. With a lead and thing bench options, you want to leave in your leading rebounder and hope you can close it out on the defensive end. You would hope Azubuike would be able to at least split his free throws.

Lastly, as a coach, you want to show support in your players. I know at the end of the day, the goal is to win. It’s how coaches keep their jobs. But Bill Self isn’t going anywhere unless he chooses to. It benefits Kansas in the long run for Azubuike to know his coach and team have faith in him. You put faith in your player to keep his focus and confidence knowing his team is behind him. I know the results are not what Rock Chalk faithful wanted, but I believe it will help down the road.

Kansas still controls their own destiny in the Big 12. It would be great to be two games up over everyone in the conference, but they still rest at the top alone. They have that big win at West Virginia, something most teams will not get. This will be a game that stings KU and their fans right now, but it will be forgotten. It doesn’t compare to how badly those losses in March sting. And that’s what Self was playing for. Self’s decision last night, while playing a big hand in the loss, will help this Kansas team in a big game when the season is on the line.

Oklahoma’s Scorching Offense Ready for Texas Tech’s Stifling Defense

The Big 12 Conference has arguably been the most exciting conference in college basketball this year. It’s almost guaranteed to have a ranked team play another ranked team every night the conference is in action. That will hold true tonight as #9 Oklahoma hosts #8 Texas Tech.

This will be the second straight game Oklahoma has taken on a Top 10 team. The Sooners traveled to West Virginia over the weekend and lost to Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, nothing to hang your head on. Trae Young and company will now need to bounce back against the Big 12’s best defense. Not an easy task.

Numbers Don’t Lie

While West Virginia fans may have something to say about that last line, Texas Tech is in fact leading the conference in scoring defense. The Red Raiders allow just 59.2 points per game in 15 games so far this year. They are very legit; their only loss is to a talented and experienced Seton Hall team. They’re 3-0 in the Big 12 and have won all those games by double digits, including a 12 point win at Kansas where they led wire-to-wire.

Chris Beard has done a phenomenal job with this team. As seasoned as they are, they’ve gotten a huge boost from freshman Zhaire Smith, who is second on the team in scoring and fourth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage. The Red Raiders have also had strong play at the most crucial position, point guard, with Keenan Evans returning to lead the team in scoring and assists.

The moral of the Texas Tech story however, is defense. They are not a team that will run up and down with you. Despite Evans’ 17 points a game and Smith’s 11, they know they will not outscore their opponents. Instead they will contest every shot, limit transition chances and wear you down for 40 minutes. Ask the teams they’ve played, it’s not fun.

Different Story For The Sooners

On the other side, the Oklahoma Sooners are a tad different. Instead of suffocating their opponents defensively, the Sooners have been piling on the points, leading the conference with 94.4 points per game. Everyone knows about Trae Young and his insane 29 points per game, but the Sooners have more than just the freshman phenom.

They have a total of four players averaging 10 points a game, including Christian James and Brady Manek, both of whom have showed an ability to score in bunches in games this season. While the OU offense starts and ends with Young, Texas Tech will need to contain the entire Sooner offense.

Against West Virginia, Young had his worst game as a collegiate athlete. On paper he finished with 29 points, but that came on 8-22 shooting, his lowest shooting percentage since his first game of the year. He also had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio for the first time all season, finishing with 5 assists to 8 turnovers. If you watched the game you could see Young did not look as comfortable as he has most of the year. He has a chance to get back on track at home.

Despite the tremendous defense of Texas Tech, I like Young and Oklahoma to bounce back tonight with a home win and move to 3-1 in the Big 12. I know the numbers favor Tech, with them leading the conference in both defensive field goal percentage and three-point defensive percentage, but I don’t believe Young can have two poor games in a row. They will no doubt run Young off the three point line any chance they get, but that’s where I expect Young to take what they give him and become a distributor when necessary. I don’t think he will have a negative turnover-assist ratio again and I think that will be the difference.

It’s the conference’s number one offense versus the conference’s number one defense. Something has to give. Don’t miss this game tonight, 7PM on ESPN

Where Does Trae Young Stack Up in the 2018 NBA Draft

A freshman is taking college basketball by storm, and his name is not Marvin Bagley or Michael Porter Jr. In case you have missed it, Trae Young has taken over college basketball this season. Young is leading the country in points and assists per game right now. He is fresh off an absurd 26 point, 22 assist outing in only 29 minutes on Wednesday night. Plain and simple, Trae Young and Oklahoma is must watch basketball.

Dominating college is one thing, but not all players translate to the NBA game. Freshman phenoms like OJ Mayo, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams are all examples of players who dominated college for a year, but did not live up to the hype in the NBA. They don’t necessarily deserve the bust label, but they are also not Kevin Durant, James Harden or Anthony Davis. So with that in mind, where does the best player in college basketball (yes, he’s been the best so far) net out in next year’s NBA Draft?

When it comes to way to early mock drafts, the names Bagley, Porter, Ayton, Doncic and even Bridges are the first ones written down. Not many people talk about the 6’2, 180 pound freshman from Oklahoma. Young is making the case though, to be drafted ahead of some of those names. For one, look at some of the teams projected in the Top 5. Chicago and Atlanta both took big men in last year’s draft. Taking another center could interfere in their development. Young’s ability to get his teammates involved and drop dimes would help Markkanen and Collins more than adding another big body next to them.

Secondly look at the body of work. I know it’s early, but Young has been superb. Porter has been out with injury. Bridges has been solid, but hasn’t taken the leap we expected; granted Michigan State is loaded with weapons. Bagley and Ayton have been great. Young has been better. He has had the highest scoring game this season (43) and tied the NCAA record for assists in a game (22). How does a team turn that down?

The biggest knack on Young is his size. He does not have the NBA ready body that Bagley, Ayton and Bridges do. Neither did the guy everyone is comparing him to, Steph Curry. Young may not be ready now physically, but he has the potential to put on strength and size once he is drafted. In a league where we now draft on potential, how can you turn down a player for his current body at 18/19 years old.

So where would I put Trae Young if I had an incredibly early 2018 NBA Mock Draft? I’m buying the hype, because the hype is real. I’m putting Young as the second best prospect on the board right behind Bagley. If I’m Chicago or Atlanta, I am absolutely taking him and giving myself a point guard and forward for the future. I would expect Young’s numbers to drop slightly once Big 12 play starts, but I think he will still put up crazy numbers that will make him near impossible to pass up come June.

Do yourself a favor, if you haven’t seen Oklahoma yet, check them out.