Aaron Craft's senior season is here, much to the disappointment of any Buckeye basketball fan that has watched him progress through his three years as a key impact player for Ohio State. During his time in Columbus thus far, he has helped three teams to deep runs during March Madness in the NCAA Tournament starting in the 2010-2011 season where the Buckeyes would reach the Sweet Sixteen before falling to the Kentucky Wildcats. The following year, Ohio State went all the way to the Final Four and was minutes away from a national championship appearance before narrowly be beaten by a Thomas Robinson-led Kansas team.
Coming out of high school, Craft wasn't a five star, but fans were excited about his decision to flip from his Tennessee commitment to join Thad Matta's class of 2010 that included Jared Sullinger, DeShaun Thomas, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. Now with three seasons under his belt, Craft is ready for one final run, that he hopes can be special.
Previous Season Stats: 10 PPG 3.6 RPG 4.6 APG 2.1 SPG 34.1 MPG 41.7% FG%
A look back:
Building off of his sophomore campaign and returning DeShuan Thomas, Aaron Craft and Ohio State had plenty of high hopes as to what this team could do in the 2012-2013 season and in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes would lose a couple of games to highly ranked opponents, including Kansas, Duke, Michigan, and Indiana, but would bounce back after a loss to Wisconsin and rattle off eight straight wins (including the Big Ten tournament, where the Buckeyes would beat the Badgers for the championship).
From there, the selection committee would give Ohio State a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tournament in one of the weaker roads to the Final Four. The Buckeyes would breeze through their second round match-up against 15th-seeded Iona and move on to Iowa State. Ohio State would struggle mightily against the Cyclones in a decent game from Craft until everything turned when (with about 8 seconds on the clock) Mr. Rosy Cheeks himself would dribble out the clock near the top of the key before sending off an awkward but awesome, 3-point game-winning shot. That shot would send Ohio State to the Sweet Sixteen as the only highly-seeded team to remain in one of the most bracket-busted tournament regions in recent history.
Moving on to face 6th-seed Arizona Wildcats, Craft would struggle from the field, going 3-for-9, but the Buckeyes would manage to somehow come out alive again, winning, 73-70. In what appeared to be an almost A-B repeat from the Iowa State game, Aaron Craft had the ball in his hands at the top of the key with time winding down, but this time would end up giving it up to the hot hand, where LaQuinton Ross would sink the eventual game-winner to send Ohio State to the Elite Eight.
Unfortunately, the Buckeyes would meet their demise against Wichita State and fall 70-66 to the 9th seeded and aptly named Shockers. The troubles with shooting from DeShaun Thomas and Aaron Craft would dig Ohio State a hole they couldn't get out of (Craft was 2-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-7 from three-point range). With the Buckeyes knocked out, and DeShaun Thomas headed to the NBA, it's very clear that this is Craft's team to lead from here on out.
Outlook for 2013-2014:
The 6'2, 195-pound Craft has had a tremendous amount of success in his time at Ohio State, but there's little doubt that he wants to go out with a bang in his final season. Whether or not he'll continue playing (whether in the NBA or not) isn't a concern to him right now. He's focused on the season, and getting better, as he took it upon himself to try and improve his shooting by working with former Buckeye assistant coach Chris Jent and current assistant Greg Paulus in the off-season.
Ohio State is tasked with the tough job of replacing DeShaun Thomas' productivity, but if Craft can improve his jumper, he still has plenty of talent around him. Including Craft, the Buckeyes have Lenzelle Smith Jr, Shannon Scott (who showed a vast amount of improvement last year), LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams, among others. The Buckeyes have the talent to make another deep run in the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament if they can play at a consistently high level.
It all starts when Ohio State takes on the Walsh Cavaliers this afternoon at 4:05.
Best case scenario:
Aaron Craft develops a consistent mid-range game, including a decent percentage from beyond the arc. His defensive game improves even more (if that's even possible) and he garners national attention en route to a defensive player of the year award and earns All-Big Ten first team honors. The Buckeyes make noise in the B1G tourney again, and go on to another deep run in the NCAA Tournament as Ohio State's team gels during the late regular season into one of the more consistent teams anywhere in the country. Fans all across the country tweet and #SWOON becomes a national trending topic.
Worst case scenario:
Craft stays about the same (or god forbid, regresses) in his shooting game, while also suffering minor injuries that nag him throughout the season, taking away from his defensive game. The new hand-checking rules affect his defensive game as well, and the Buckeyes can't seem to pull enough momentum to make too much of a run in the NCAA Tournament and fall in the second or third round.