Tramel: Have COVID interruptions stopped Brady Manek's and OU basketball's momentum?
Maybe you can blame the pandemic. Maybe you can blame the weather. Maybe you can blame the normal ups and downs of a college basketball season.
Whatever the cause, the tremendous momentum built by OU’s basketball team has flickered. The Sooners, who vanquished one top-10 team after another earlier this season, struggled to beat Iowa State on Saturday and then lost at Kansas State 62-57 Tuesday night.
The Sooners beat ninth-ranked Kansas, fifth-ranked Texas and ninth-ranked Alabama in succession to finish off January, then valiantly lost 57-52 at No. 13 Texas Tech, the latter two games without Austin Reaves, had to sit out do to COVID-19 protocols. Hard now to imagine OU functioning without Reaves, much less producing, but that’s what the Sooners did.
But that Tech game on February 1 was OU’s last mid-week game until Tuesday night. The Sooners’ home games against Baylor (Feb. 10, COVID) and Texas (Feb. 16, icy weather) were postponed. OU played only on Saturdays until this week, and mostly without the flair that turned the Sooners into a top-10 team themselves.
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OU struggled at home against Iowa State, rousingly beat West Virginia in double overtime, struggled at Iowa State and played their poorest game of the season at K-State.
And the stagnation is most clear in the play of Brady Manek. The senior center has been a three-year mainstay. Maybe never OU’s best player (Trae Young, Kristian Doolittle and now Reaves), but almost always a great second option and a good rebounder.
But Manek missed a few games due to COVID earlier in the season, and his rust has shown. The interrupted schedule clearly has affected Manek’s progress in recent weeks.
Manek made just one of seven shots at both Iowa State and Kansas State, with a combined 0-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. Manek had just two points and one rebound vs. Kansas State.
In Manek’s first three seasons, he averaged 12.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and shot 38.4 percent on 3-pointers.
In the first six games of this season, Manek’s play was even better – 16.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 45 percent 3-point shooting.
But Manek contracted the COVID, didn’t play between January 6 and January 19, struggled for a couple of games when he came back and then began playing a little better. Now, he has regressed as the Sooners’ play was interrupted.
In his last 12 games, Manek has averaged 6.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and shot 24.5 percent on 3-pointers.
OU’s offense needs Manek at some level, else too much burden is placed on Reaves. Down the stretch Tuesday night, Reaves took the shot or drew a foul on eight of OU’s final 12 possessions.
Manek did not take a shot the final 16 minutes of the game. He seems to have lost his aggressiveness and his confidence.
The Sooners will play three times from Saturday through the next Thursday. Perhaps that concentration of games can bring Manek out of his malaise. The same with the Sooners.