College basketball has a new crush. In the past two months, just about everyone who watches, talks about, writes about or coaches the game has fallen head over heels for Oklahoma's Trae Young.
Young is, in so many ways, the point guard next door. While most of the fall's freshman pre-ogling was reserved for big men such as Duke's Marvin Bagley III, Texas' Mo Bamba and Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Young flew largely under the radar on his 4.4-mile journey from Norman North High School to the Lloyd Noble Center on Oklahoma's campus. Nevertheless, the 6-foot-2 point guard has captured the attention of the nation in just two months with his fast, fearless playing style and an anywhere/anytime jump shot.
Each week we'll offer some new thoughts about the chase for the Wooden Award. Who's up? Who's down? What are the biggest factors in shaping who will be this year's top player? There are plenty of questions worth answering, but there's no doubt that there is only one place to start the discussion about this year's honor after watching Young for the past two months.
An all-encompassing comparison for Young is hard to find because he's doings things that have rarely, if ever, been done at this level. Young averages 29.6 points and 10.7 assists per game -- both lead the nation. There's a little bit of Steph Curry, a little bit of Steve Nash and production not see in college since the likes of Pete Maravich.
What should excite fans the most, and the trait that is most likely to help him continue to stay atop the Wooden Award watch list, is the early indication that, as the stage grows, so does Young. His most electric performances have come on the road against then-No. 3 Wichita State (29 pts, 10 assists) and then-No. 10 and undefeated TCU (39 pts, 14 assists). Wednesday night against rival Oklahoma State, he came up one rebound shy of his first career triple-double.
That propensity to shine in the spotlight is a good sign for the rest of Young's season because he'll see plenty of it. There is, of course, the possibility that he'll come back down to earth soon. After all, he is only about 400 playing minutes into his time as a growing national star. If he keeps his current pace -- or anything close to it -- this year's Wooden Award race will be a fun, contested battle for second place.
Deandre Ayton, Arizona Wildcats
The Wildcats' three-game stumble in the Bahamas temporarily bumped Ayton to the back of an impressive list of freshman game-changers leaving onlookers slack-jawed through nonconference play. After his performance against rival Arizona State last week, it's safe to say the 7-1 powerhouse is officially back to unhinging jaws.
Ayton had 23 points and 19 rebounds against one of the hottest teams in the country in the adrenaline-filled McKale Center on Saturday night. His tip-in to clinch a win with 11 seconds to play was a nice example of how athletic he is for his size. The freshman also showcased his ability to dominate in the paint by holding Arizona State's Romello White(6-8, 220 pounds) to two points before he fouled out.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State Spartans
The sophomore star shot to the top of Wooden Award watch lists the minute he decided to return to East Lansing for an encore last spring. He was a preseason favorite to lead a stacked lineup and make the Spartans one of America's most dangerous teams. Well, Bridges is leading his team with 17 points per game and Michigan State is ranked No. 1. So, why's he dropping?
Bridges' numbers this season are so far on pace or slightly behind what he put up during an impressive season, but he hasn't taken a big step forward on paper yet this year. He's had some pedestrian shooting efforts recently and has yet to really grab the spotlight in a big game (Teammates outscored him in wins against UNC and Notre Dame). Bridges is still very much in a position to jump back into contention with a strong conference season, but there are definitely a handful of players who have leapfrogged him for player of the year consideration in the past couple of months.
It's also worth noting here that fellow popular preseason pick Bonzie Colson might have taken the biggest blow to his odds of winning the award this week. Colson was proving to be a useful Swiss Army knife for the Irish, as expected, but a foot fracture suffered in practice this past week is expected to keep him off the court until at least early March.
Big Week Ahead
Jevon Carter, West Virginia Mountaineers
Good defense often goes unnoticed, especially before college hoops becomes a bigger focus late in the season. One sure way to get noticed as a defender would be to lock down the nation's best scorer and playmaker in a marquee game. Carter's Mountaineers go head-to-head with Oklahoma and Young this weekend. If Carter can make the sport's burgeoning superstar look human, more folks will start to take note of the guard. He is, after all, averaging 16.6 points and 6.6 assists to go along with his nation-leading 3.7 steals per game for a West Virginia team that hasn't loss since Nov. 10.
Names to watch: Bagley; Xavier's Trevon Bluiett; Villanova's Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson; Kansas' Devonte' Graham; Arizona State's Tra Holder; Wichita State's Landry Shamet; Arizona's Allonzo Trier