Senior Aaron Craft is in his final go-around in the Scarlet and Gray. I’m certain many fans outside of the Columbus area are thrilled with that news, which is a great testament to what Craft has accomplished while at Ohio State. He was a pleasant surprise his first season in Columbus. His second season was much less surprising, and it was particularly enjoyable for fans to watch his defensive dominance and occasional offensive brilliance at the point guard position. Last year was more of the same, and he stepped into more of a scoring role on occasion.
Last year this became Craft’s team. That will continue this season as he leads the Buckeyes into another challenging schedule. Aaron Craft’s leadership is more important than ever, and will be the key to where this team ends up at the end of the season.
Hometown: Findlay, Ohio
High School: Liberty Benton
Position: Guard (1)
High School Awards:
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.
Last season, Craft expanded his repertoire to include more of a scoring threat to enhance his skills as a player. While his shooting percentages dropped from the year before (see below), he took 79 more field goal shots, and 24 more three point attempts. It’s not surprising that his numbers would slump a bit, and it will be interesting to see if he can bring those percentages up any this year.
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 had such a high shooting percentage early in his career – most of the shots he would take were high percentage ones. That certainly doesn’t mean he’s wrong to change his game, but does drive home the point of why his numbers would be much lower last season.
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. Two seasons ago 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. Last year the addition of Amedeo Della Valle, along with increased use of Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross, made it less necessary for him to be a scoring threat, but he made it a big part of his game – and boy did it connect at the right time.
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 – Aaron Craft is the point guard for this team, and that will not change any time soon. Shannon Scott will continued to come into the game along with Aaron Craft to give the Buckeyes a greater advantage in the passing game while maintaining Craft’s defensive presence. And Scott will have his minutes spelling Craft and keeping him fresh.
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?