Some excellent freshmen have played significant roles for their teams this season, but no one has performed quite like Oklahoma’s Trae Young.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard leads the nation in both scoring (29.4 points per game) and assists (10.6). No one in recorded NCAA Division I history has ended the season leading in both those categories. In 13 games, he has eight double-doubles and six games of more than 30 points.
Young tied an NCAA record with 22 assists against Northwestern State. His season high for points is 43 against Oregon. He has unlimited shooting range, and his 3.92 three-point baskets made per game is fourth in the nation.
What makes Young’s story exceptional is that he attended high school at Norman North just minutes from the Oklahoma campus. Ranked anywhere from No. 16 to 23 in the nation overall as a senior, he stayed home and is reaping the benefits for the Sooners, who lead the country with 95.8 points per game, while entering the national player-of-the-year conversation.
“This isn’t overwhelming. I enjoy it,” Young said in a radio interview with Jim Rome two weeks ago. “I knew coming in if we won, and I was playing well, and my team was playing well, everything would come. I just want to continue to keep it going, and that’s what’s motivated me.”
Someone who has noticed Young is Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who can handle the ball and shoot from distance with the best of them.
“I call it the flair,” Curry told reporters this week after a win over Dallas. “But it seems like he’s always composed and knows what he’s trying to do every time he has the ball in his hands. He shoots a lot of deep threes and has a creativity to his game that’s just so fluid to watch.”
Other freshman stars
Three of the nation’s top four high school graduates in the Class of 2017 are making a marked impact as freshmen.
Marvin Bagley III, a 6-11 center from Duke, averages 21.9 points and 11.6 rebounds and shoots 63.0 percent from the field for the No. 2 Blue Devils.
Deandre Ayton, a 7-1 center who plays for Arizona, has averaged 20.3 points along with 12.1 rebounds, and makes 62.3 percent of his shots.
Texas’ Mohamed Bamba, the 6-11 former star at Westtown School in Chester County, isn’t scoring as much as his classmates, averaging 11.7 points, but he’s second in the nation in blocked shots (4.54) and has grabbed 10.7 rebounds per game.
The other member of the top four, Michael Porter Jr. of Missouri, underwent back surgery in November but has not ruled out coming back before the end of the season.
Unbeaten to all-beaten
Just like that, the last three unbeaten teams fell last Saturday: First, Villanova at Butler; then, Texas Christian at home against Oklahoma;, then, Arizona State at Arizona. For the first time since the 1948-49 season, there were no unbeaten teams in Division I men’s basketball entering January.
With the Sun Devils’ loss Thursday night to Colorado, 11 top-five teams have lost to unranked opponents this season, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Brey No. 1
Former Delaware head coach Mike Brey, one of the good guys among college basketball coaches, became the all-time winningest coach in Notre Dame history with his 394th victory, an 88-58 defeat of North Carolina State on Wednesday night. Brey was presented the game ball by Digger Phelps, the former Penn assistant who held the old Notre Dame mark of 393.
“You’re just really honored,” Brey said. “You’re a little humbled that you have been here 18 years and you can last long enough to be the all-time winner.”
Let’s talk Jayhawk
Kansas is having its share of problems. The Jayhawks’ 85-73 loss Tuesday night to Texas Tech marked their second defeat of the season at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the first time that’s happened since 2006-07. It was their worst margin of defeat at home since a 25-point loss to Missouri nearly 29 years ago.
The Jayhawks will play Saturday at TCU. A loss there would give them their first 1-2 start in the Big 12 since 1990-91.
“We don’t have an identity,” coach Bill Self said. “We’re not very good right now but, when I say that, we’re not doing what we need to do to be elite.”
William & Mary, off to a 2-0 start in the Colonial Athletic Association and 9-4 overall, has impressed the nation with its shooting numbers to date. The Tribe lead NCAA Division I in three-point percentage (46.2), and are second in free-throw percentage (80.6) and third in overall shooting from the field (51.7 percent).
Expatriate of the week
Ja’Quan Newton, a Neumann-Goretti High graduate, became the 38th player in Miami basketball history to reach the 1,000-point career plateau. Newton scored six points against Georgia Tech and finished the night with 1,001 points. For the season, Newton has started all 14 games for the 15th-ranked Hurricanes and averages 9.9 points and 3.0 assists, shooting nearly 48 percent from the field.
Games of the week
North Carolina at Virginia, Saturday at 1 p.m., ESPN: The Cavaliers again are playing lock-down defense, ranking first nationally in points allowed (52.7 per game) and second in field-goal defense (36.4 percent). Four of the Tar Heels’ last five games have been decided by five points or fewer, and they’re 2-2 in those contests.
Oklahoma at West Virginia, Saturday at 7:15 p.m., ESPN2: The Sooners (95.8 points per game) and Trae Young (29.4 ppg) both lead the nation in scoring but now must come face-to-face with the frenzied defensive style of “Press” Virginia – the Mountaineers force 20.5 turnovers per game.
Kansas at Texas Christian, Saturday at 9:15 p.m., ESPN2: Both of these teams are in the top 10 in shooting percentage in the NCAA at just better than 51 percent. But the Jayhawks are coming off a loss on their home court to Texas Tech in which they missed all 12 of their three-point tries in the second half.
Texas A&M at Kentucky, Tuesday at 7 p.m., ESPN: The Aggies went 11-1 in their non-conference schedule but have lost their first two SEC games by a total of 39 points. For the Wildcats, freshman Quade Green (Neumann-Goretti) averages 10.5 points and is shooting 50 percent from the field.
Xavier at Villanova, Wednesday at 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1: The Musketeers, who are 0-5 at the Pavilion, finally get a chance at the Wildcats in Wells Fargo Center. This heavyweight matchup brings together three of the Big East’s top scorers: Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.
Player to watch
Markus Howard, Marquette, G, 5-11, So., Chandler, Ariz.
Howard tied the Big East record for points in a game when he scored 52 Wednesday night in the Golden Eagles’ 95-90 overtime win at Providence. Howard had 32 points in the second half, breaking the conference mark for most points in a half set by Villanova’s Kerry Kittles (28) in 1995, and his 11 three-point baskets gave him yet another Big East record. Entering Saturday night’s game against Villanova, Howard leads Marquette in scoring with a 22.6-point average, is third in the nation with 4.0 threes per game, and is one of only two players in NCAA Division I who hasn’t missed a free throw, going 45 for 45 in his 13 games.