BY MATT CRAIG | Ball State Sports Link | The Athletic
Ball State continues its tough non-conference schedule with a road trip to Norman, Okla., Wednesday to take on the Oklahoma Sooners. Squaring off against any Big 12 opponent would be difficult, especially one that is only two years removed from an appearance in the Final Four.
But the Cardinals also face a unique challenge of trying to contain Oklahoma freshman guard Trae Young, almost definitely the most talented individual scorer they will see all season.
Young was a consensus Top 25 high school recruit, choosing the Sooners over Kansas, Kentucky and other powerhouses.
On Oklahoma’s foreign tour to Australia and New Zealand this summer, he averaged 21.5 points per game, then put up 41 points in a pair of exhibition games and kicked off the regular season with a 15 point, 10 assist, six rebound performance that earned him Big 12 Player of the Week honors in his very first week as a college basketball player.
While comparisons like this can be dangerous, Young’s game is similar to that of Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry. Although he’s not an explosive athlete, his lightning-quick first step is accompanied by incredible ball handling skills and elite shooting ability out to 30 feet, off the dribble or the catch.
Drawing the defensive assignment for Ball State initially will be redshirt junior point guard Tayler Persons, who’s not shying away from it.
“Oh yeah, I want that matchup,” Persons said after practice on Monday. “I’m pretty confident against anyone I go against. I feel like I can do what I do against anybody and I’m excited to prove that.”
He cited his experience as one advantage he has over the young guard. But, he acknowledged he can’t stop a player like Young by himself.
“It’s going to come from a collection to guard him,” Persons said. “It’s going to be two or three people in the gap collapsing on him. It can’t just be one-on-one all the time because he’s a really good one-on-one player.”
Young’s skills are amplified in the supersonic-paced Oklahoma offensive system. Through the two exhibitions and one regular season game, the Sooners are averaging 102 points per game.
In preparing to defend them, Ball State head coach James Whitford told his team at practice “they are the fastest team we will play all season.” Several practice drills Monday were dedicated to transition defense.
“I think the biggest thing we need to do Wednesday is slow them down in transition and build walls behind the ball,” Persons said.
Stopping opposing teams from getting out and running the fastbreak begins with making shots on offense, something the Cardinals did extremely efficiently Friday against Dayton.
After opening the game with 10 straight missed shots, Ball State shot 31-of-57 from the field, good for 54.4 percent.
In order to pull the upset over Kenpom.com‘s 26th-ranked team in the country, Ball State will probably need to add to that efficiency 10-or-more makes from behind the arc in order to keep up with the Sooners on the scoreboard.
For all of the talk of slowing them down, this game is going to be a fast-paced shootout to the finish and the Cardinals will need to put up a lot of points to win.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. local time, 8 p.m. Eastern on Fox Sports Southwest regional network, and may be available for stream via FoxSportsGo.com depending on other regional games.
Follow @bsusportslink on Twitter and keep checking back to chirpcitybsu.com for full access to the team as #TheProcess continues! And don’t forget, #WeFly.