Trae Young and Oklahoma Can Rally for a Deep Tournament Run


There’s a good chance you were angry Oklahoma made the NCAA Tournament.

The Sooners, who were given a No. 10 seed to face seventh-seeded Rhode Island, absolutely stunk down the stretch. Mid-majors such as Middle Tennessee State had great seasons, but couldn’t get in with the deck stacked against them. Maybe you believe OU only got in because star guard Trae Young can bring TV ratings.

You aren’t necessarily wrong. Just don’t be surprised if it’s also true the Sooners are a Final Four team.

We’ve seen it happen before. In 2011, ESPN’s Jay Bilas in particular railed against the inclusion of VCU. The Rams turned around and went from the play-in game to the Final Four.

The 2015-16 Syracuse team lost four of its last five regular season games then lost its first ACC Tournament game. The Orange finished 9-9 in the ACC, 19-13 in the regular season and had little business getting a No. 10-seed in the NCAA Tourney.

But two weeks later, Syracuse upset Virginia in the Elite Eight.

If one of the most maligned selections off this year’s bubble is going to play in April, well the Sooners are a strong possibility. Yes, Oklahoma lost nine of its past 12 games, but Syracuse showed how a team is playing at the end of the regular season isn’t always the strongest indicator of NCAA Tournament potential.

Sometimes the fresh start that comes with getting away from campus and playing in the tourney is exactly what a struggling team needs. With the cameras pointed at them as the tournament participants were announced, the Sooners display of genuine joy and relief from making the field was the best body language they’d shown in weeks.

Oklahoma looked plain bad for all of February. When other teams figured out ways to slow down, if not stop, Young, the other Sooners didn’t know what to do. They often showed little to no interest in playing defense and essentially quit in a 30-point loss at Kansas three weeks after rallying from eight down to beat the Jayhawks in Norman.

But this isn’t about OU’s floor. The worst that can happen is they lose one more game. It’s about the ceiling. And the Sooners still have the same players who looked like a Final Four squad in January. They still have a coach, Lon Kruger, who has been to more than one Final Four, and they still have Trae Young, who is capable of taking over the Tournament they way Steph Curry, Kemba Walker and a few other future NBA guards have done in the past.

If the Oklahoma got its needed wake up call, then look out. The record says 18-13, but the team that handled Wichita State, Texas Tech and Kansas is still in there, somewhere.

The Sooners open up with Rhode Island, a team that hasn’t been playing its best basketball of late either. If they can get past the Rams, well a lot of bad memories suddenly could seem like the distance past.

Shane Mettlen is a veteran journalist who lives in Virginia and also writes for The ACC Sports Journal. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneMettlen.