Oklahoma should be the favorite to win the Big 12, not 13-straight champion Kansas, as league play opens this weekend, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said on the NCAA/Turner.com podcast March Madness 365.
And Oklahoma freshman Trae Young is the frontrunner for national player of the year, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said on the podcast after the Sooners win over the Shockers earlier this month in Wichita.
“I would say right now Oklahoma is the best team in the league,’’ said Huggins. “They’ve got a great coach in Lon Kruger and probably the best player in the country. He's surrounded by a whole bunch of veteran guys who Lon has nurtured through their infancy to be veteran guys. They are loaded inside. If I had to revote, I’d pick Oklahoma right now.’’
Young scored 29 points and dished out 10 assists in a 91-83 win over Wichita State on Dec. 16. Young is leading the country in scoring at 28.7 points a game. Oklahoma, which opens Big 12 play at TCU Saturday, leads the country in scoring at 95 points a game.
“The kid was phenomenal,’’ said Marshall. “I knew he was good. I didn’t know he was that good. He can shoot the ball not quite like Steph Curry but he has deep range. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. Coach Kruger has given him the keys to the Ferrari and he's done a great job running the offense. I think I’m most impressed with his touch on passing. He sees things before young players see them. He’s got a great touch. He’s the combination of Chris Paul and Steve Nash along with a Steph Curry jump shot. If he stays healthy and they stay healthy, he’ll be hard to guard and that team will be hard to guard because of him.’’
Huggins, Marshall and Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley covered a wide-range of topics on the March Madness 365 podcast.Huggins said West Virginia is 90-29 since the Mountaineers have gone to being “press Virginia,’’ and continues to credit his assistant Larry Harrison and longtime confidant Kevin Mackey, the former Cleveland State head coach and veteran NBA scout as helping him institute and run his pressing defense.
Huggins, whose Mountaineers are 11-1 and open Big 12 play at Oklahoma State Friday night, was just named to the eligible list of potential inductees to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The class of 2018 will be announced at the Final Four in San Antonio.
“It’s not going to define me,’’ Huggins said if he were fortunate to get inducted. “I got into this business because I love basketball, because I really enjoy working with young people and the relationships I have with my former players…being in the Hall of Fame is a big deal. It is a big deal for everybody.’’
Wichita State begins its maiden voyage into the American Athletic Conference by opening at UConn Saturday. The Shockers have last season’s leading scorer and rebounder Markis McDuffie back after missing the first 11 games. He played limited minutes against Florida Gulf Coast last week and was rusty, according to Marshall.
“He’s a very good player with size, talent, skill and athleticism, and you can plug him into different positions,’’ said Marshall.
Marshall said joining a new league is a sense of accomplishment, even though the Shockers have been to the Final Four. What he doesn’t anticipate changing, though, will be Wichita State becoming one of the top games on the opposing team’s schedule.
“It’s already happened this year,’’ said Marshall. “It says Wichita State across the front and there is a number attached (ranking) that has been very high.’’
Marshall isn’t ready to compare this Shockers’ team to past ones yet.
“This team has a lot of depth, but we’re not defending at the level this program has the last six years,’’ he said. “We need to make better decisions with the ball and limit turnovers. We need to get them down to being more manageable. The 13-14 team had three NBA players on that roster. This team has a lot to prove and accomplish to say they are the best.’’
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Villanova looks like its reached full potential
Hurley’s ASU Sun Devils (12-0) have already knocked off Xavier in Las Vegas and won at Kansas. But the toughest task will be Saturday in the Pac-12 opener at Arizona. Hurley said the Sun Devils will have to contend with Deandre Ayton inside, stay out of foul trouble and play “our style.’’
That “style” has been high octane and highly entertaining this season so far.
“We’re not a traditional program that goes to the NCAA tournament year in and year out,’’ said Hurley. “We knew we had to prove more with our resume and quality wins. The unpredictability plays in our favor. Our guards can score at all three levels: deep 3s, pressure at the rim off the dribble and can hit the mid-range and floater shots. We’re unselfish in getting the right shots. Our offense puts a lot of pressure on the opponent.’’
The Sun Devils’ style is the way in which Hurley wanted to play when he arrived at ASU after taking Buffalo to the NCAA tournament.
TOO. MANY. HIGHLIGHTS. pic.twitter.com/rJmzNmvkqY— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) December 22, 2017
“I want an uptempo game and guys playing off instinct,’’ said Hurley. “Our plan is to utilize our guards in ball screens and in a variety of different ways. We plan to play quick. I haven’t felt any significant pressure losing by double figures this season because I know how explosive our offense can be.’’
Hurley said he hears from ASU fans about how excited they are to watch the Sun Devils this season and how fans can relate to the team of undersized guards.
Ultimately, the path Hurley has been on from Duke, to the NBA, to recovering from a horrific car accident as a pro, to out of the sport, to back in and working with his brother Dan Hurley at Wagner and Rhode Island, to becoming a head coach at Buffalo to now Arizona State has been rewarding.
“It’s been a long journey,’’ Hurley said.