If you're not an Ohio State Buckeyes basketball fan, the odds are that you hate Aaron Craft. Guys like J.J. Redick, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greg Paulus (who ironically now is the video coordinator for the men's basketball program) all found a variety of way to get under your skin. Be it timely shots but never playing a lick of D, essentially superficial effort at all times with big rebounds and put backs at the time most prone to drive you absolutely insane, or flopping enough to make Manu Ginobili weep, these players were the kind you swore at every single time they were on your television. More often than not, however, they'd do something or be part of something so good on the court that your arbitrary hate would turn full blown irrational rage.
Aaron Craft fits this mold.
Previous Season Stats: 8.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.5 SPG, 50% FG%
A Look Back:
We had a really great metaphor about the anti-hero and his archetypal plight, but Aaron Craft stole that too. The Buckeyes' then sophomore point guard joined Greg Oden and Ken Johnson (2X) as just the third ever Buckeye to be named Big Ten defensive player of the year. In addition to solving complicated geographic and fluid dynamics equations on the court, Craft solves rubik's cubes in just over a minute and recorded a ridiculous 3.889 GPA, easily besting this author's career best quarter. Craft would also top Mike Conley's Ohio State record for steals in a single season of 87 with a whopping 98 in 2011-2012. To celebrate, let's watch him do his thing:
Craft was seemingly at his best on the biggest of stages all year long. He put up a season high 17 points against Duke in a 85-63 blowout win, added 16 in a losing effort on the road in Assembly Hall, and had some of his most efficient games against the likes of Michigan State, Purdue, and Gonzaga.
And speaking of that Gonzaga NCAA tournament game, Craft had his first career double-double with 17 points and 10 assists. He followed that up with an Ohio State NCAA tournament record for steals with six against Kentucky and did this all on the heels of averaging 5 assists per game in Ohio State's run to the Big Ten basketball tournament chapionship game.
Did we mention the times that he hounded the opposing team's best scorer (unless there was an extreme height/physicality disparity) and basically got under the skin of every opposing point guard he faced? Because that is a thing he's been pretty stellar at for going on three seasons now.
Outlook for 2012-2013:
The question for Aaron Craft isn't just how good he can be, the question is how good he can help this Ohio State team be. While Craft's assist numbers may never match some of the more gaudy across the country due to Ohio State's multiple pass offensive sets, there's little doubting that everything Craft does on both sides of the ball is engineered with designs on making everyone around him better. With multiple new starters in 2012-2013 and the likes of Marquette, Duke, and Kansas comprising the non-conference schedule, Craft's (now upperclassmen) leadership will be as important as ever.
While the cliche "the Buckeyes will go as far as Aaron Craft leads them" may not be 100% apropos given the need for numerous other moving parts to play their parts, he is the Buckeyes' coach on the floor who will maximize the efficacy of every single possession.
Best Case Scenario:
Aaron Craft is the best on the ball defender in the country, adds some offensive polish to his game, and ups his assists per game to high single digits to such a degree that he earns legitimate Wooden award consideration. The Buckeyes' quarterback on the hardwood is a consensus first team All-American and leads Ohio State to a deep NCAA tournament run. All the ladies (and gentleman) say, "swoooooooooooon."
Worst Case Scenario:
Aaron Craft is but an honorable mention All-American, semifinalist for the Big Ten defensive player of the year award, and is under appreciated by opposing fan bases while still feared by opposing coaching staffs. We won't mention the injury prospects because that would make us cry a lot and every game without Aaron Craft would be akin to being mugged and/or robbed repeatedly.