Getting a Little Defensive
Perhaps the most unheralded difference maker in college basketball this season has been Ohio State’s Aaron Craft: the pesky defender with the rosy cheeks. Craft never receives the attention Peyton Siva, Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, and Jared Sullinger are accustomed. As we saw with Kendall Marshall, the gritty point guard may not get the attention or recognition award wise as the slick-shooting Harrison Barnes, but those hard-charging, hard-nosed floor generals are the difference on their teams. Aaron Craft changes the game in a way no other player left in the tournament does. He plays smash mouth defense and keeps your floor general from functioning with any efficacy.
To be perfectly honest, when one watches big time college basketball and Ohio State is one of the teams playing, it is not a stretch to imagine someone saying, “Who is this little white kid running around the floor?” Aaron Craft epitomizes nearly every stereotype people have about a white college basketball player, but he goes against one which has legitimized Craft’s spot as the pivotal player wearing scarlet & gray. To start, Craft is the hard-working, scrappy, 1st team Academic All-American many people would suspect of a Caucasian in the world of basketball. It is no secret that African-Americans have dominated the sport with unprecedented consistency for decades. Aaron Craft, however, has something every other white player in the league is dying for: quickness. Craft was a multidimensional quarterback at Liberty-Benton High School before retiring from football to focus on basketball his senior year. A starter freshman to junior year, Craft racked up about 11,500 yards of total offense. He passed for nearly 6,800 and ran for circa 4,700. Both these numbers were school records for Liberty-Benton. Craft’s career completion percentage was 73.3% and was getting looks to play Quarterback at the Division 1 level. Craft’s natural athleticism separates him the hackneyed version of the white basketball player which has become the butt of many jokes. Perhaps the great irony is Craft has used his athleticism and quickness to reinforce the archetypal Caucasian. He uses these exceptional tools to play hard-nosed defense and make the little plays which never make it into the scorebook. Craft not only kept up with speedsters like Cashmere Wright and Scoop Jardine defensively in the last two rounds of the tournament, but he out-quicked men who are accustomed to out-quicking anyone they play. Craft made Cashmere Wright look silly for the entire game. He had 6 steals in the game, but forced many more turnovers. Wright looked lost every time down the floor and it completely stagnated Cincy’s offense. The difference between two teams which matched-up well on paper was evident. Ohio State was able to run through its offense on every possession; meanwhile, Cincinnati could not even get passes off without Craft bothering floor general Cashmere Wright. The same situation arises for the Buckeyes against Kansas this Saturday. Aaron Craft will be forced to play a point guard who is lightning quick and figures on beating anyone guarding him whenever he feels like it. Analysts will talk about how fast Tyshawn Taylor is and how Aaron Craft’s defense will slip because of the difference in athleticism. When the game starts, don’t be surprised to see the turnover-prone Taylor to struggle against the pit bull-esque defense of the pesky little gnat running around and slapping the rock loose. The phenomenal gauntlet in the post between the duo of Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey versus Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas running rowdy will take the focus off the Point Guards squaring off, but the game will be decided far before those big guys even have the opportunity to touch the ball. The Final Four duel which has not drawn the attention of SportsCenter or other media groups will be the better of the two games. Two teams with the will to win and five players on the floor who know their roles will create a close game while Kentucky figures on beating Louisville by 50. The entire game will be decided by how Tyshawn Taylor handles the ferocious “D” of the rosy warrior Aaron Craft. Craft is the best defending guard in college basketball. He changes games in a way no other player does and maybe like no other player can. Teams cannot even sniff their offenses because their point guards are occupied with the little white fly buzzing around everywhere. Cashmere Wright could not handle the pressure and Cincinnati doubled its season average for turnovers. Syracuse looked pained to try and start up against Craft the Bucks “D”. Craft could make the game an extremely long one for Tyshawn and the entire Kansas Jayhawks team. No other player can make the immediate impact Craft does, except for Taylor if he handles Craft’s annoyance. That damn rosy cheeked, die-hard, pit bull will be the player to watch on Saturday, but only when he doesn’t have the ball.