By: Travis Thayer (@TheTravisThayer, @HalfGameBack)
The Ohio State University basketball team is among the hottest teams in the nation going into the NCAA Tournament. They came a few missed free throws by Michigan guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to a share of the Big Ten regular season title. It would have been their fourth consecutive year with at least a share of the title, but they never wavered. Instead, they went on to win the tournament of the toughest basketball conference in the country. There were many reasons for the Buckeyes resurgence at the end of the season, but nobody can argue that Aaron Craft is the primary reason.
There is no doubt that the Buckeyes will go as far as the rosy-cheeked Craft will take them. There is a certain calm about Craft that keeps the rest of his teammates under control. There is no greater example than the Buckeyes monumental road win against Indiana. Craft dominated the entire game on both the offensive and defensive end, and his emotion remained under control as it does every game he plays. His play rubbed off on his teammates as they were able to keep their composure in a hostile environment. This was the game that made Craft a 1st team All-Big Ten player, and it should have been the game that won him defensive player of the year in his conference. Craft finished the game with 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting. He also contributed 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. As for the stats that don’t show up in the box score Craft helped the Buckeyes keep Oladipo from going off in a game that could have won the Hoosiers an outright Big Ten Title. Oladipo was hampered by some early foul trouble, but was limited to only 7 points and he couldn’t stop Craft late in the game. Craft displayed why he should be considered as not only a great defender, but just a great player.
Then along comes the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes got a good draw after earning the number two seed in the tourney. They made easy work of lowly Nebraska before a rubber match with the Michigan State Spartans. Each team had won on their home court during the regular season. In the first matchup way back in January, Aaron Craft forgot to get off the bus in East Lansing. He only contributed 5 points, but made his usual contribution on defense. In February, Craft wrote the ship with 21 points. Constantly beating Keith Appling to the basket on pick and roll opportunities. And finally in the third meeting in Chicago in the semifinals, Craft again got the best of Appling and Michigan State. Craft poured in 20 more points against the Spartans much like he did in Columbus a month prior. The Buckeyes would then go on to avenge a loss to a Wisconsin team in the championship that destroyed them in Madison early in the season.
There are a few things that are very obvious about the Buckeyes. 1) The team relies heavily on Deshaun Thomas to score the ball (double digits in every game this year, 19 ppg), and 2) The team hasn’t beat a quality opponent unless Aaron Craft has played an all-around great game. The poise that Craft plays with, and the grit and toughness that he plays with drives opposing teams and fans insane. The kid is unnerved and is as smart as they come (3.9 GPA in Nutrition, Pre-Med) which earned him academic All-American honors for the second straight year. There has been a lot of talk as to why people hate Craft, and most point to the fact that he is white. I don’t think that is entirely true, I just believe people are envious of this kid because he is a borderline genius, and has proved himself as a great collegiate athlete. The Buckeyes may or may not win the NCAA Championship, but won thing is for certain they will win with humility and lose graciously. Either way Aaron Craft will lead the way because that’s what he is, a leader.
Below is a highlight video of Aaron Craft, and Craft solving the rubix cube in 65 seconds.