Starting 5: Trae Young losing grip on Wooden Award, but who can steal it?

Starting Five-Trae Young-Oklahoma

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week, college basketball columnist Kyle Tucker will name a Starting Five — his favorite five players from across the country at that particular moment in time. As guys heat up and cool off, this list will change through the course of the season. Kyle is out of the office this week, so Alex Martin Smith is here to temporarily wreak havoc on this time-honored tradition.

No matter how big your lead in the Wooden Award race, you’re going to be looking over your shoulder if your team is on a four-game losing streak and you’ve shot 7 for 41 from 3-point range during that time.

Winter has come for Trae Young, the freshman sensation who had been dragging Oklahoma to victory all season. He’s still averaging 29.1 points and 9.3 assists in 2017-18, but the once-cavernous divide between him and the rest of the awards field has shrunk.

There’s a big factor working in his favor, though: Most of his competition has failed to take advantage of his lapse. If the Wooden doesn’t go to Young, who is it going to? As you’ll notice in the column below, several other big names have also been struggling to maintain a consistent presence.

Here’s the latest Starting Five:

G Trae Young, 6-2, Fr., Oklahoma

Still the clubhouse leader for National Player of the Year, Trae Young shot 18 for 18 from the free-throw line and averaged 20.5 points over his last two games. Problem is, he’s countered that with an awful 1-for-17 performance from deep. Oklahoma has lost four in a row, with each of the last two defeats coming by 10 points. Turnovers are still a persistent problem for Young, too; he’s committed at least 5 in every game since Jan. 9, and at least 4 in every game since Dec. 8.

G Shamorie Ponds, 6-1, So., St. John’s

St. John’s is still a freight train from hell, and Shamori Ponds is the conductor. The once-awful Johnnies have now won four in a row after a narrow 77-76 victory at DePaul on Wednesday night. Ponds, who made his Starting Five debut last week, recorded his first 10-assist game of the season while adding 26 points and 5 rebounds. All of that after a 44-point performance against Marquette on Saturday. He’s been the best player in college basketball over the last two weeks.

F Miles Bridges, 6-7, So., Michigan State

Michigan State destroyed a hapless Minnesota team by 30 points Tuesday night. Spartans star Miles Bridges couldn’t buy a bucket (0 for 5 from inside the arc), but he contributed 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal in limited minutes. The real story came last Saturday, when the future NBA lottery pick put up 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting — including the game-winning 3-pointer — in an upset of No. 3 Purdue. Sparty has won nine games in a row amidst a contentious off-court episode. Expect him to continue rolling against a weak end-of-season schedule.

F Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, Jr., Ohio State

Keita Bates-Diop — a.k.a. “the clear leader for Big Ten Player of the Year,” per the most recent Starting Five column — got only one opportunity to boost his stock. That was a minutes-shortened blowout win over Iowa, in which the junior managed 14 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. He’ll be forced to make a much bigger impact in an important rematch at Penn State on Thursday night.

C Jock Landale, 6-11, Sr., Saint Mary’s

Major credit to Gonzaga, which expertly double-teamed the Saint Mary’s star in a revenge victory last weekend. Jock Landale managed just 4 shot attempts in 37 minutes of action, finishing with 4 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks as the Zags snapped the Gales’ 19-game winning streak. He gets a chance to redeem himself Thursday night at San Francisco.

RELATED: Who made this list last week? 

On the bench

* If a few things break the right way, Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans might be the guy to steal the Wooden Award from Young. He outplayed his conference rival in an 88-78 win on Tuesday, which followed a 19-point, 5-steal effort against Kansas State over the weekend. Big performances against Kansas and West Virginia down the stretch might result in some major hardware (so long as Young continues his slump).

* Texas forward Mo Bamba collected his 13th double double of the season with 16 points and 16 rebounds against Baylor on Monday. However, the Longhorns lost in double overtime, and have dropped three in a row to significantly lessen their tournament odds.

* Duke forward Marvin Bagley was strong in a loss to North Carolina last Thursday (15 points, 16 rebounds and 4 assists) but has missed the last two games with a “mild right knee sprain.” A prime All-America candidate, Bagley will get another crack at UNC on March 3.

* Iowa State forward Cameron Lard is a freshman from Natchitoches, La., and he’s recently been filling SEC programs with regret. The 6-foot-9 former 3-star recruit put up 19 points and 17 rebounds in a win over No. 17 Oklahoma and followed up with 19 and 11 in a close loss to No. 13 Kansas (he hit 7 of 11 shots in each game).

* Arizona center DeAndre Ayton seems to have lost his shooting touch (14 for 35) over the last couple games, but he still averaged 17 points and 9.5 rebounds against UCLA and USC. Consider the low percentage an aberration, as he shot 26 of 38 in the three preceding contests.

* Oregon State duo Drew Eubanks and Tres Tinkle have been mighty unkind to opponents over the last week. They teamed up for 47 points (combined 20 of 30 from the field) and 24 rebounds in a win at Washington, days after teaming up for 38 and 15 in a win vs. Washington State.

* Georgetown forward Marcus Derrickson has become a man possessed. Last Saturday vs. Seton Hall, he posted 22 points (8 of 12 from the field, 3 of 4 from deep) and 18 rebounds. Tuesday night at Butler, he was even more efficient: 27 points (11 of 13 from the field, 3 of 3 from deep) and 7 rebounds. The Hoyas (15-10) won both games and appear to be trending in the right direction as they wrap up Patrick Ewing’s first season.

* Indiana forward Juwan Morgan posted Olajuwon-esque numbers while leading the Hoosiers to a 10-point win over Illinois on Wednesday: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 steals and 3 assists. He is averaging 21.5 points and 8.1 rebounds over his last eight contests.

* Did you see what North Carolina forward Luke Maye did to N.C. State on Saturday? He posted 33 points (15-of-22 shooting), 17 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks to help the Tar Heels win a barn burner against their in-state rivals. That came two weeks after he put up a similarly impressive stat line (31 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) in his first matchup vs. the Wolfpack.

* Keep an eye on Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett, who scored a season-high 37 points (8 of 11 from deep and 13 of 13 from the line) to go with 7 rebounds in a 12-point win over Seton Hall on Wednesday night. He’s averaging 19.6 and 5.7 on the season.

The post Starting 5: Trae Young losing grip on Wooden Award, but who can steal it? appeared first on SEC Country.

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