On Saturday afternoon during the Ohio State Buckeyes‘ 72-69 Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to the Michigan Wolverines, a very interesting scenario occurred regarding the Buckeyes’ most notable player, Aaron Craft.
With 11:44 left in the second half, Craft picked up his fourth foul and the Buckeyes were down 56-51. Following Craft’s benching, they went on a 17-11 run over the next eight minutes to take the lead, 68-67. With about three minutes left in the game, Craft reentered and the Buckeyes managed just one more point en route to the loss.
Coincidence? I think not.
Without question, Craft is the best on-ball defender in the country and shows more heart and hustle than any basketball player at any level. However, he can’t score. When he’s on the floor, Ohio State is really only playing 4-on-5 when they have the basketball. Whoever is guarding Craft usually becomes the help and double teams a big man like LaQuinton Ross or Amir Williams.
With Craft on the bench, Ohio State then has five players who can score. Rather giving the defense one less player to think about, the Buckeyes have five players on the floor who can hit a jump shot or finish at the rim. It opens up the painted area for Williams or Ross to score as well. It’s not a question of depth either as head coach Thad Matta has a couple different scorers on his bench.
The first is Shannon Scott. Coming off the bench, Scott scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting (4-of-6 from behind the arc) in 32 minutes against Michigan. In Ohio State’s quarterfinal win over Nebraska, Amedeo Della Valle provided 12 points and six rebounds in quality minutes at the end of the game. Junior Trey McDonald and freshman Marc Loving can give you solid minutes off the bench as well.
Give plenty of credit to the Wolverines in their victory. They shot 53.2 percent from the floor including 12 threes. Conference MVP Nick Stauskas dropped 18 points and Glenn Robinson III and Carls LeVert both scored in double figures as well. They played a good game and earned the win.
At the same time, when it’s going to take a shootout to win a basketball game, Craft is virtually useless. If Ohio State’s opponent is scoring the ball at will, then what good is having your best defender on the floor? You’d be much better off putting five players on the floor who score rather than keeping one player who can’t score on the floor simply because he tries really hard.
In the NCAA tournament, Matta may want to consider cutting Craft’s minutes. Ohio State’s biggest weakness is their inability to score. However, their semifinal loss showed that much of that can be attributed to Craft’s inability to score, not necessarily the rest of the team. I understand that offense sells tickets and defense wins championships, but what good is a solid defense if you can’t outscore your opponent in a low-scoring contest?
If the Buckeyes don’t want to suffer an embarrassing early exit from the NCAA tournament, they’ll need to rethink Craft’s role on this team. He’s the vocal leader and their best defender, but there’s no denying how much better they are offensively when he’s on the bench.