Big commits at OU, Texas could signal challenge to Kansas’ Big 12 dominance

The Jayhawk logo during a NCAA basketball game between the Kansas Jayhawks and TCU Horned Frogs at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. Photographer: Ray Carlin/Icon Sportswire
Ray Carlin/Icon Sportswire

You would have to search long and hard to find two coaches in the same conference that are as different as Lon Kruger and Shaka Smart.

Kruger, 64, has been at Oklahoma since 2011. He’s one of only two coaches to take five different teams – Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and OU – to the NCAA Tournament. At two of those stops (Florida and OU), Kruger had a Final Four team.

Smart, 39, is in his second season at Texas, moving to Austin after coaching at VCU. In 2011, the year Kruger arrived in Norman, Smart led the 11th-seeded Rams to the Final Four.

Thanks to two huge recruiting gets, Kruger and Smart now have a lot more in common, and their teams should be on the uptick next season after spending this season anchoring the bottom of the Big 12 standings.

On Thursday at high noon Central Time, Norman (Okla.) North High School senior Trae Young announced he would attend his hometown university. Young is a five-star point guard whose dad, Rayford, was an outstanding point guard at Texas Tech in the 1990s.

Young selected OU over Kansas and Oklahoma State. For Kruger, landing a recruit that was being chased by Bill Self is a coup. Here’s Adam Zagoria’s explanation why this is the Sooners’ biggest signing since landing Blake Griffin.

And Young figures to be a perfect fit in next season’s team. The Sooners have to replace senior point guard Jordan Woodard, whose final season in Norman was cut short by a torn ACL suffered a week ago.

“He lets his guards play the way I want to play,” Young said of Kruger. “He’s going to give me a lot of freedom, but also teach me the game and expand my knowledge of the game.”

Young is 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds; he’s averaging an eye-rubbing 43 points a game for his high school team.

Following last season’s Final Four trip sparked by player-of-the-year Buddy Hield, the Sooners have struggled and are in last place. They take a 9-16 overall record into Saturday’s Bedlam game at Oklahoma State.

Woodard is the only significant senior on the roster that has six freshmen and four sophomores. Freshmen Kameron McGusty and Kristian Doolittle have been impressive and next season post players Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace should be one of the best big-men combos in the Big 12.

Young’s commitment came two days after Oklahoma won its third conference game, knocking off Texas in Norman. That avenged a last-second loss to the Longhorns in Austin. Next season, both teams will be led by highly recruited freshmen point guards.

A month ago, four-star recruit Matt Coleman committed to play at Texas, choosing the Longhorns over Duke. Much as Young selecting Oklahoma over KU, Coleman choosing to play for UT instead of Duke is a big-time get for Smart.

After reaching the NCAA Tournament in Year One, Smart had to replace his top seven players and lost the team’s only point guard when junior Isaiah Taylor decided to declare for the NBA Draft.

And despite signing an impressive class led by five-star post player Jarrett Allen, this season has been a long walk off a short pier for the Longhorns (10-16, 4-9). Without a point guard, Texas’ young team has struggled with scoring droughts and have yet to win a game not played in Austin.

The addition of Coleman gives Smart a top-10 recruiting class. Talented players on this year’s team like Eric Davis Jr., Kerwin Roach Jr. and Andrew Jones are perimeter players in need of a point guard who can control pace, space and deliver passes in a timely fashion.

“Shaka, he’s a players’ coach, watching them play, and you’re just constantly hearing like ‘Texas needs a point guard,’” Coleman said. “‘Things would be different if they had a point guard.’ The way they play up and down fast-paced, and I know the ball will be in my hand from day one.”

If – and that’s a big if – Allen decides to return for his sophomore season, Texas could have a legitimate top 25 team. It started this season ranked in the preseason, but that was yet another example of foolish voting.

The two teams that should be best-positioned to end Kansas’ reign atop the Big 12 standings are Texas and Oklahoma. They have the brand name, the facilities and the coaching to challenge the Jayhawks. Young’s decision to attend OU now leaves the Jayhawks needing to sign a point guard.

Self apparently is a coffee drinker, because he’s been a closer in the spring signing period, landing Andrew Wiggins and Josh Jackson of late. Kansas will now target the nation’s top-rated point guard, Trevon Duval. He has KU, Arizona, Baylor, Duke and Seton Hall as his finalists.

Had Young chosen KU, Duval would have dropped the Jayhawks from his list. If Duval chooses Kansas, he’ll either be the Jayhawks’ point guard or will start alongside Devonte’ Graham should he decide to stick around for his senior season.

Kansas could have a top five recruiting class – again – if it can entice Duval. That’s a big reason why the Jayhawks are closing in on their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title.

But the commitments of Young at OU and Coleman at UT indicate that those two schools are gearing up to mount serious challenges to Kansas’ dominance.

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