With Basketball season fast approaching – the Buckeyes play their exhibition game on October 30th this year – the crew here at the BBC is excited to get the round-ball action going! Stop by every Tuesday and Thursday for the next 6 weeks for each new installment of our 2012 Shooty Hoops preview.
Junior Aaron Craft was a pleasant surprise his first season in Columbus. While his second season was much less surprising, it was no less enjoyable for fans to watch his defensive dominance and occasional offensive brilliance at the point guard position.
With this being Craft’s third year in the program, and as one of the most experienced players on the squad, it is finally time to consider this to be “Craft’s team”. Considering last year’s apparent struggles in the leadership department from the squad as a whole, it will be imperative for Craft to step up and take control early.
Hometown: Findlay, Ohio
High School: Liberty Benton
Position: Guard (1)
High School Awards:
- Three time All-Ohio selection in basketball.
- As a Senior, he was named Ohio Division III player of the year (2010).
- Starting point guard for state runner-up team as a freshman.
- Two time All-Ohio selection in football.
- Ohio Division V player of the year (2008).
- Big Ten Freshman of the Week (1/17/2011)
- Yahoo! Sports’ Big Ten Freshman of the year. (2011)
- 2011 Media Honorable Mention All-Big Ten
- 2011 Coaches Big Ten All-Freshman Team
- 2011 Media Big Ten All-Freshman Team
- 2011 Coaches Big Ten All-Defensive Team
- 2011 Sixth Man of the Year.
- 2011 Lefty Driesell All-America Team.
- 2012 Preseason Wooden Award Top 50
- 2012 Preseason Naismith Award Top 50
Aaron Craft spent his first season coming off the bench for Matta’s team. There was a long period of speculation that at some point he would start for the Buckeyes during his freshman campaign, but it never came to be. Matta seemed to prefer to run Lauderdale at Center for the tip than have Craft’s talents on the floor from the start.
As the 6 man, Craft provided an incredible spark off the bench, no-where more obvious than on defense. Few players in college basketball displayed the effort that Craft did on the defensive end. He was singularly irritating, often spending his entire time in the back pocket of his opponent.
He finally got his chance to start for Thad Matta during his Sophomore year, and greatly improved on an already fantastic resume. He continued to needle opposing point guards with his incredible defense, to the point where he regularly seemed to be toying with them. It is no small feat to be considered in the top 50 for both the Naismith and Wooden awards, even in the preseason. Considering Craft’s inconsistency on offense, this is a telling fact regarding how the national pundits view his defense.
Stats are from Buckeyes Beat.
Aaron Craft is a defensive specialist, the sort that Thad Matta absolutely loves to have on the floor. He is an aggressive defender capable of making a big play at any moment during a game. He averaged 2 steals per game during his freshman season, and upped it by a half a steal in his sophomore campaign, quite frequently by swiftly picking his man’s pocket. He is most effective in man-to-man defense, and is at his best defending by himself in space.
Craft is also a spectacular slasher on offense. He has a sneaky quickness to him that often catches his defender off guard, and is capable of seeing the floor open up in ways that few other point guards can. Recall this play against Michigan from his freshman year that Craft just lit them up on:
This is also the reason that Craft has such a high shooting percentage – most of the shots he takes are high percentage ones. That’s certainly something that Matta appreciates out of his point guard.
Aaron Craft’s current weaknesses are really only issues in terms of making him a more well-rounded player than any true negatives about his game.
During his freshman year, Craft’s outside shooting was not a necessity. In fact, the times that Craft hit a three pointer felt like a bonus rather than something that needed to happen. Last season it rapidly turned into that necessity with Buford, Sibert, and Lenzelle Smith all struggling from the outside. Unfortunately, Craft never picked up that part of his game to compensate for the others – in fact he shot 5 fewer three pointers, and sank 3 fewer, than he did the year before. This year the addition of Amedeo Della Valle, along with potential increased use of Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross, could help offset any shooting deficiencies in Craft’s game.
His other weakness is closely related. As one of the most experienced players on the team, Craft may often be looked to in order to provide a spark not only on the defensive end, but possibly on the offensive end as well. While DeShaun Thomas, Sam Thompson, and LaQuinton Ross might be more natural choices for that role, Craft may need to step up one game and help power the Buckeyes through on the offensive end. He has yet to really take over a game, allowing Jared Sullinger and William Buford to be the guys last year. He might not have that option this year if other players have an off game.
Role for the team:
There is no question about his role for the team this year, despite the questions that came up last year during the preseason. Aaron Craft is the point guard for this team, and that will not change any time soon. You could still see the possibility of Shannon Scott coming into the game along with Aaron Craft to give the Buckeyes a greater advantage in the passing game while maintaining Craft’s defensive presence. However, I believe we will only see that in select circumstances, most likely in situations where passing down to Amir Williams in the lane is especially challenging – perhaps against a competent 2-3 zone, or against Bill Carmody’s unusually well-planned defenses.
As I said at the beginning, this is Aaron Craft’s team. He has played like a future leader in the past, and it’s time for him to play that role now. The only question is – will he step up and take it?