Oklahoma Sooners proved again why they don't belong in NCAA Tournament
Sooners' late-season swoon, no-show in Big 12 tourney, should seal their fate with committee
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - So this is how the Trae Young era ends at Oklahoma, with the Sooners' (at times) fantastic freshman once again at the sad end of a handshake line.
OK, Young's college career isn't over yet, but it should be at least in terms of the NCAA Tournament -- along with the rest of his OU teammates.
You had to be there, or maybe it was best you weren't after the latest chapter in OU's epic collapse, a 70-61 Big 12 tournament first-round loss to Oklahoma State.
Young may have merely been an accomplice of Oklahoma's second-half fall. But the prospect formerly known as the national player of the year was also a symptom.
OU has lost eight of its last 10 and 10 of its last 14. It lost just about every hustle point available Wednesday night getting outrebounding, 53-27, 18-5 on the offensive glass and outscored, 19-2, in second-chance points.
Young went down shooting like he always does - 7 of 21 that produced 22 points - but this performance had a finality to it.
"Instead of taking care of business we left it in the committee's hands," Young said. "I think our resume speaks for itself. I think we had the toughest schedule in America."
And the absolute worst finish for a bubble team.
"We've been coming out flat, coming out without energy. We don't keep it up for the whole game," OU freshman Brady Manek said. "We have to play harder, have that 'want' to win. We had it at the beginning of the season and kind of lost it."
Cowboys' forward Mitchell Solomon seemed to put his own stamp of finality on it facing Young at the end of that handshake line.
"I told him I respected him," said the 6-foot-9 Solomon after leaning down to the 6-2 Young. "I might not like him all the time being an Oklahoma guy, but I respected him."
This is not the one-and-done Lon Kruger was thinking of when he landed one of the nation's top prospects. Young and Sooners once again looked haggard, tired and worn at the end of a long season.
Kruger is a hall of fame coach. He has taken five teams to the NCAA Tournament. He took Oklahoma to the Final Four two years ago. But this season is hard to explain.
Kruger tried everything he could this season, taking Young off the ball at times, trying different lineups. It's hard at the moment to recall wins over Oregon, USC, Wichita State and Kansas earlier in the season.
Oklahoma has won twice since Jan. 30.
"It's very disappointing," Kruger said.
The men's selection committee will indeed decide the Sooners' fate officially on Sunday. But it's suddenly really, really hard to make a case for the Sooners.
The optics were terrible. Oklahoma didn't necessarily have to win it but when you go out like this -- essentially being run out of the building -- that's the lasting image for the committee.
A team that once sported the national player of the year looked like it didn't want to be there. The team that finished second to the bottom of the conference was beaten in every way possible.
Need I go on? Someone does because the selection committee in Indianapolis needs to be told: Why are the Sooners (18-13) considered a lock? By now it's only on reputation. They haven't won a road game since ... last year in the Big 12 opener Dec. 30 at TCU.
This was a neutral-site contest which made it easier to get out of town without many boos. But seriously, Oklahoma faded quicker than a cloudy sunset this season. OU was ranked No. 4 the night of Jan. 16 when it traveled to Kansas State.
The Sooners lost by 18 and were never the same again. Maybe it was because Young couldn't hold up to the rigors of conference play. Maybe it's because he didn't have enough help.
But even that's hard to believe. Four days after that K-State loss, Young shot it 39 times (making only 14). The Sooners lost in overtime to Oklahoma State.
It was a foreshadowing. While Oklahoma got worse this season, the Cowboys got better. Coach Mike Boyton swept Kansas in his first season. The Cowboys finished 4-2 against the top three in what some have called the nation's best league (Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia).
They beat the hated Sooners two out of three. Young finished shooting a paltry 36 percent (28 of 77) against the Cowboys.
"I didn't expect to be in this position by any means," Young said Wednesday night. "I obviously expected us to keep winning and hopefully have a chance to get a 1-seed or 2-seed or up in that range."
After Wednesday night, a play-in date in Dayton next week doesn't look so bad.
Or maybe even ... NIT, anyone?
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