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Film: Breaking down freshman sensation Trae Young

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Northwestern plays the early frontrunner for national player of the year on Friday.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Wichita State

The Sooners are rollin’, and I’m not talking about Baker Mayfield’s bunch. While the Sooner faithful are preparing themselves for Oklahoma’s much anticipated return to the College Football Playoff, their basketball team has also looked elite.

Yes, it’s early and yes, we’re still in non-conference play, but through 10 games the Sooners have defeated three power conference opponents on their way to a 9-1 start. Since their November loss to Arkansas, they have won seven straight, including two wins against top-25 opponents. They are the No. 17 team in the country.

The Sooners went 11-20 overall last season, and finished 5-13 in Big 12 play. They didn’t just struggle, they were downright bad. So what’s changed?

Trae Young, that’s what.

The former five-star recruit and Norman native is the early front runner for National Player of the Year, leading Division I in points (28.5 per game) and assists (10.2 per game). Young’s outstanding offensive numbers have accounted for more than half of Oklahoma’s D1 leading 94.2 points per game.

Although the point guard position has evolved to be score-first on many teams, taking care of the ball will always be an important aspect of being a team’s floor general. Young’s assist to turnover ratio is nearly 3-to-1 (102 assists, 38 turnovers), an incredibly impressive number considering his usage percentage of 35.6, the second highest rate in the country, and by far the highest number of any major conference player.

Running Oklahoma’s offense efficiently is the more unheralded aspect of Young’s game; he’s better known for getting buckets. And boy can he get buckets.

Young can shoot it from three, create his own shot or finish at the rim. And he does it efficiently. His overall field goal percentage (47.8), and 3-point field goal percentage (38.3%) attest to that.

He has turned heads lately, scoring 43 points against Oregon, dropping 29 with nine assists in a two point win at USC and recording 29 and 10 in a convincing win against the third ranked team in the country, Wichita State. On Tuesday, Young tied an NCAA record with 22 assists in a win against Northwestern state.

Young has deep three point range, can shoot if off the dribble extremely well and is also a great passer. Sound like a certain someone who plays for the Golden State Warriors?

Well the Stephen Curry comparisons have already begun.

Northwestern faces what is likely is most difficult individual task of the season Friday.

Here’s a look at how Trae Young has managed to dominate opponents and headlines so far this season.

Three point shooting

The most celebrated part of Young’s game is his three point shooting. Like Curry, Young has incredible gravity and can score from beyond the arc in a variety of ways; spot up, pick-and-roll or off the dribble.

Pick-and-Roll

When defending Trae young in a pick-and-roll situation, the individual guarding the ball has to go over the screen and the big man must both “show” and “hedge”. If not done properly, Young will shoot you out of the game.

(video courtesy of @NotZay/Youtube)

On the play above, the big man doesn't hedge hard enough after the guard goes under the screen, and Young buries a triple.

(videos courtesy of @FrankieVision/Youtube)

The same issue occurs on the next play.

Simply put, if you give Young an opening, he'll make you pay. Dererk Pardon will play a critical role in pick-and-roll situations Friday.

NBA Range

Young is a legitimate threat from 30+ feet out.

If those clips tell you anything, it's that you need to pick Young up as soon as he crosses half court.

Can create his own shot

If all else fails, Young has a unique ability to break down his defender and hit a contested three point shot.

On the following two plays, Young showcases range off the dribble by stepping back to create space before hitting from long range.

Not vertically explosive, but very quick (a la Steph Curry)

Young doesn’t possess elite leaping ability, but he is fast, has a quick first step and can stop, or change direction on a dime.

Here, the Portland player adjusts to Young’s three point prowess and goes over the screen. But the big man doesn’t hedge, allowing Young space to make one dribble move and get to the rim.

(video courtesy of @NotZay/Youtube)

When the Oregon defender picks Young up early, which Young's range forces you do to, the OU freshman blows by for an easy bucket.

(videos courtesy of @FrankieVision/Youtube)

In transition, Young is a nightmare to deal with. He has the ability and speed to go coast-to-coast. He immediately puts the defense on its heels when he gets the ball.

Young also has a floater in his back pocket.

Skilled and Willing Passer

Young is the D-1 leader in assists for a reason. He has exceptional vision and, unlike many other elite scorers, he is a willing passer. Because of Young's passing prowess, Northwestern must be aware of where shooters and cutters are at all times, which is especially difficult given how much attention Young draws as a scorer.

(video courtesy of @Ballislife/Youtube)

Young shows off his vision when flicking cross court, one handed pass to teammate for wide open corner three.

(videos courtesy of @FrankieVision/Youtube)

Perfect left handed bounce pass.

No look, on the run bounce pass to a teammate under the basket.

As the videos show, Young is good at getting the ball to the open player. Young’s scoring and passing ability make him one of the most difficult covers in college basketball. It's going to take a collective defensive effort to contain the potent Young-driven Oklahoma offense.

How Northwestern should defend Trae Young

(video courtesy of @NotZay/Youtube)

Two Portland defenders could've trapped the ball rather than letting Young spin out of potential double team and reset the offense. After some ball movement, this possession ended with a Young three. Sure, if you trap Young and he moves the ball, his team will get it back to him. But if Northwestern forces Oklahoma to use 5-10 seconds of the shot clock waiting for Young to come off an off ball screen, it only has to defend the Sooners offense for 20 seconds.

(video courtesy of @FrankieVision/Youtube)

Trapping Young, even in the backcourt, can be effective. Oregon tries to get the ball out of his hands early in this possession, and good things happen.

Ultimately, no team has been able to contain Young, hence there only being two clips in this section of the piece.

If Young can shoot from it from three, and blow right by a defender who shows on a screen, how on earth do you defend him?

If we are to believe the Steph Curry comparisons, let’s think back to 2016, when the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals, before the Cleveland Cavaliers ultimately defeated the Warriors in the finals.

Both OKC and Cleveland smothered Curry. Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams hedged pick-and-rolls extremely hard, daring other Warrior players to beat them.

If it weren’t for Klay Thompson’s explosion in game six against OKC, Golden State wouldn’t have made it to the 2016 NBA Finals.

Northwestern should hedge hard on pick-and-rolls to get the ball out of Young’s hands. Sure, you read it all the time: ‘Get the ball out of the best players hands. Make someone else beat you’.

Usually its not that simple. But the Sooners don’t have a Klay Thompson (or a Kevin Durant for that matter) to bail them out when Young is having an off game.

If the Wildcats send constant double teams at Young and force players like Christian James and Brady Manek to beat them, they’ll have a much better chance of leaving Norman with a win.

We all remember the last two minutes of game 7 in the NBA finals. There was ‘the shot’, ‘the block’ and the Kevin Love defense.

Remember when Kevin Love switched onto Steph Curry and played brilliant one-on-one defense in order to preserve a three point lead and bring a ship back to the ‘Land? The Wildcats will need a couple heroic defensive possessions like that from big men Dererk Pardon, Gavin Skelly and Aaron Falzon Friday night.

Gracing the front page of Espn.com, being the feature story on a Saturday night airing of SportsCenter and drawing comparisons to Steph Curry less than two months into his collegiate career are all accomplishments for Young in and of themselves.

But make no mistake, the Oklahoma point guard will be looking to continue his scorching start and expose Northwestern on national television Friday. We, along with the rest of the country, will see if the Wildcats improved defense can contain the nation’s best offensive player.