Oklahoma-Alabama: May Best Freshman Superstar Point Guard Win

Matthew Jordan

Friday, January 26, 2018 2:34 PM UTC

Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 2:34 PM UTC

The marquee individual matchup in NCAA basketball on Saturday features star freshman point guards in Trae Young of Oklahoma and Alabama’s Collin Sexton.

No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners at Alabama Crimson TideFree NCAAB Pick: BamaBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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This non-conference matchup tips off Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.

You might be wondering why Oklahoma of the Big 12 and Alabama of the SEC are playing a non-conference game this late in the season. It’s part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge. To garner more attention, this one-day event is played in the middle of the season as opposed to before conference play like the ACC/Big Ten Challenge each December.

The two other marquee matchups in the Challenge on Saturday are Kentucky-West Virginia and Texas A&M-Kansas. We will have individual previews of those game as well here at SBR. This is the fifth year of the Challenge and the SEC has yet to win one. It did tie 5-5 last year, with the Big 12 now leading 25-15. There are 14 SEC schools and 10 in the Big 12, so obviously four in the former conference don’t compete in this event.

It’s just the eighth meeting on the hardwood between the Sooners and Crimson Tide. Oklahoma leads 5-2 and won the most recent in November 2013, 82-73.

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Trae Young only shot the ball 9 times, but he still lit it up in Oklahoma's win against Kansas. pic.twitter.com/b9TP1tAFKT

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 24, 2018

Young vs. Sexton

No. 12 Oklahoma (15-4 SU, 8-10 ATS) is a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid, so this game means a lot more to Alabama (13-7, 10-8-1 ATS), which hasn’t made the Big Dance since 2012. The Crimson Tide currently have an RPI of 32 with three wins over RPI Top 50 teams: Rhode Island, Texas A&M and Auburn. So, they’d probably get an at-large berth as things stand, but there are plenty of tough games left, including Florida (twice), Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn and Texas A&M. ESPN’s latest Bracketology has Alabama has a No. 9 seed in the Midwest and Oklahoma as a No. 3 in the West.

Frankly, though, this game only registers nationally because of the individual matchup of the two best NBA point guard prospects in the nation, both freshmen: Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Alabama’s Collin Sexton. Barring a matchup in the NCAA Tournament, this will be their only college meeting because both will be going pro and taken in the 2018 lottery.

Young is having a potentially historic season in leading the nation in scoring (30.3 ppg) and assists (9.6 apg). He had drawn some criticism for shooting too much and turning the ball over frequently. For example, in a Jan. 16 loss at Kansas State, Young coughed it up a Big 12 record 12 times. In last Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State, he set Big 12 records in field-goal attempts (39) and 3-point tries (20).

Clearly, Coach Lon Kruger got in Young’s ear because in Tuesday’s 85-80 upset of No. 5 Kansas, Young shot just nine times, making seven, and only three from long range (making two). It was the first time this season he had taken fewer than 13 shots, but he still finished with 26 points to go along with nine assists and five turnovers.

ESPN ranked Young as the No. 23 recruit in the Class of 2017. Sexton was No. 7 and a huge coup for Alabama coach Avery Johnson. While Young has been compared to Steph Curry, Sexton is more a Russell Westbrook type with his physicality (occasional recklessness) and ability to get to the basket.

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Sexton’s season hasn’t gone quite as smoothly at times as he was suspended one game for an eligibility issue and recently missed two with an abdominal injury. He returned from that injury in Tuesday’s 78-66 home loss to Ole Miss and was just 2-for-13 from the field for seven points, perhaps a bit rusty. On the season, he’s averaging 18.5 points (one 40-point game), 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Sexton isn’t the only touted freshman on the Tide. Guard John Petty (ranked No. 22 in the ESPN 100) is averaging 11.9 ppg. Another freshman, Donta Hall, is fourth on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.9 rpg). This is a young team: According to KenPom.com, the Crimson Tide rank 348th out of 351 teams in terms of experience.

Oklahoma would beat Alabama in Norman or at a neutral site most likely. However, the Sooners have lost their past three on the road and are 4-9 ATS in their past 13 non-conference games, while the Tide have solid home wins over the likes of Rhode Island, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Auburn. Take Alabama on your NCAAB pick.

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