The weaknesses of the Ohio State men's basketball team have been revealed after five games of Big Ten conference play.
The time has come for senior point guard Aaron Craft to step up in his final season at Ohio State and do more to get himself and teammates involved in the game offensively.
The Buckeyes lost a third consecutive game Thursday night at Williams Arena against the Minnesota Golden Golphers. Ohio State had not previously lost three games in a row since February 2009.
Craft has captured the heart of many throughout his three-and-a-half years as Ohio State's quick handed, fiery point guard. ESPN's love affair with Craft has been well documented. Color commentator Dan Dakich often states that Craft would be his first pick if he was starting a college basketball team. ESPN announcer's Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham compared Aaron Craft to former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on Thursday night's telecast due to Craft's excellence at the collegiate level that may not translate to the next level.
For all of Craft's high quality play on the defensive end, we have yet to see him improve on the offensive end the way you would expect him to progress. In his first three seasons in Columbus, Craft was considered an asset for a team stacked with major talent the likes of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. Craft was considered to be a pest for opposing guards who's offense was nothing but a plus for a team that already had its go-to scorers.
Sullinger is now a starting power forward for the Boston Celtics and Thomas is playing professionally in France after being drafted 58th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs
What about Craft?
The natural progression along the line would say that in his senior year, Craft would take over more after the dynamic talent around him has began to disappear. Ohio State's leading scorer LaQuntion Ross (14.1 PPG) is a streak shooter that can score in bunches, but he is not polished enough to create shots for himself when the Buckeyes need it most. This same statement is true of everyone else on the floor that surrounds Craft each and every game this season.
After averaging double figures in points for the first time in his junior season, Craft seems to have fallen back to being a passive point guard on the offensive end. During Ohio State's three game losing streak, he averaging just 7.3 points per game and has committed 15 turnovers to compound his lack of scoring.
Craft and Scott combined for 9 turnovers, 5 assists. Not taking care of the ball making the missed shots even more of an issue.— Doug Lesmerises (@DougLesmerises) January 17, 2014
Craft's jump shot from long distance and even midrange is much improved since he first stepped foot onto campus, but it is still not consistent enough to put pressure on the defense. However, it is not Craft's lack of shooting that has hurt most. It is his passiveness and lack of aggression in terms of attacking the hoop.
When Craft gets in the lane, his quickness forces the defense to make a decision. They can either stay at home on shooters and give him driving lanes or they can help the on-ball defender and leave Buckeyes with open looks on the perimeter.
In the Buckeyes' Big Ten opener, Craft dominated the flow of the game and basically lived in the paint on the road against the Purdue Boilermakers. The point guard's seven points did not tell the story. He got into the teeth of the defense and set up his teammates for open looks all afternoon, finishing with 10 assists.
A three-game losing streak is not familiar territory for Ohio State under Thad Matta, and this team could quickly get lost if they do not find its way soon.
This is where Craft needs to step up and start leading by example not only with his energy and attitude, but with his production. There is no reason Craft cannot find his way into the lane and convert on at least five baskets every game in order to open up space for the likes of Sam Thompson, Amedeo Della Valle, and a struggling Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Craft is the elder statesman for the Buckeyes and it is his responsibility to get them back on track.
Buckeye fans do not like losing and they want to see more of the Aaron Craft that waved off Deshaun Thomas in the Sweet 16 last March, and nailed this game winning shot.