There may not be a more anticipated head-to-head battle in the 2017-18 men's college basketball season than Saturday afternoon's showdown between Oklahoma's Trae Young and Alabama's Collin Sexton, which the Crimson Tide won at home 80-73.
Though Coleman Coliseum is designed to accommodate only up to 25 NBA scouts, ESPN reporter Laura Rutledge said during the game that 58 scouts were in attendance to watch the two point guards who are mortal locks for the 2018 lottery.
They were treated to quite the show.
Sexton had missed two games in mid-January with an abdominal injury, playing poorly in the two previous games (combined 6-of-24 from the field), as well as in the first game back (2-of-13). But against the Sooners, he finished 8-of-14 with 18 points, three rebounds and two assists.
On offense, what stood out the most was his blinding speed. Four of Sexton's first five buckets came within five seconds of Alabama gaining possession. Early in the season, that speed resulted in a ton of trips to the free-throw line, as opponents had little choice but to impede his path to the hoop. Oklahoma couldn't do that much, as Sexton seemed to get to the rim whenever he wanted.
On defense, he was relentless in his pursuit of Young.
Several different members of the Crimson Tide took turns blanketing Young, which kept any individual player from getting too worn out on that end of the floor. Alabama head coach Avery Johnson probably learned the approach from Oklahoma's game against Kansas, in which Devonte' Graham did a sensational job defending Young, who shot 4-of-19 from the field on tired legs.
For most of the first half, though, Sexton was the primary defender on Young, who was limited to just five points on eight shots before the intermission.
Young eventually got going in the second half, finishing with 17 points, eight assists and five turnovers. But it was arguably his worst performance of the season. He shot 6-of-17 from the field, and all five of the turnovers were of the live-ball variety—three of which led directly to Crimson Tide dunks.
Still, Young's worst was more impressive than the best of many players, so we're not calling this a disappointment. He hit a couple of deep daggers and made several beautiful passes. If some of those guys had connected on a few of the ensuing wide-open jumpers, Young would've had his 10th double-double of the season.
And that's exactly why it's appropriate to start worrying about the Trae Young Show's staying power in the NCAA tournament.
Four days prior to this game, Bill Self and Kansas gave America the blueprint for slowing down Young: Once he gets within 30 feet of the hoop, deny him the ball, double-team him from time to time and never give him more than six inches of space to find a shot. If he happens to drive by the man guarding him, be ready to supply help defense to force a contested shot or a pass.
In other words, focus all of your energy on stopping him, and live with the rest of the Sooners' attempts in the resulting extra space.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks on Tuesday, Young's teammates came to play in that home 85-80 win. Christian James and Brady Manek combined for 29 points on 7-of-15 shooting from three-point range.
On the road against the length and athleticism of the Crimson Tide, that supporting cast just wasn't the same. James and Manek each finished the afternoon with more field-goal attempts than points scored, combining to shoot 3-of-14 from three. Khadeem Lattin had one of the best offensive performances of his career, tallying 18 points and seven rebounds.
But it wasn't enough to counterbalance the production from Sexton's supporting cast.
The key piece of that group was Herb Jones, who picked the right audience for a career-high 14 points. Scouts came to watch Young and Sexton, but they might have left impressed with Jones. The 6'7" freshman forward had a few rim-rattling dunks and was one of the main players responsible for defending Young in the second half.
Fran Fraschilla, ESPN's color commentator for the game, had this to offer on Sexton and Jones afterward:
Braxton Key and John Petty each hit several big buckets. Donta Hall blocked eight shots. Daniel Giddens was another force in the paint.
Sexton outplayed Young by a slim margin, while the rest of the Sooners got worked by the rest of the Crimson Tide, who entered the day on the tournament bubble.
That isn't to say you need to immediately sell your stock in Young and Oklahoma. Heaven knows Kemba Walker and Connecticut had a few duds in 2010-11 before winning it all. And not many teams besides Alabama have a soon-to-be first-round draft pick at point guard and a handful of other guys more than capable of defending five feet beyond the arc.
It is an alarming trend, though, as Oklahoma has now lost four of its last seven.
In the overtime loss to Oklahoma State a week ago, Sooners not named Young shot 14-of-43 (32.6 percent) from the field. They were better in the losses to Kansas State and West Virginia, but not by much. It was only a matter of time before teams started doing everything in their power to stop Young, forcing guys like James, Manek and Rashard Odomes to beat them.
In this copycat league, expect more teams to play Oklahoma the exact same way. And until Young's teammates become a bit more reliable, more losses will inevitably follow.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.