It may be a bit ambitious to say that a point guard who averaged just more than eight points a game last season has a chance to win the player of the year award in arguably the nation’s best conference.
After all, the Big Ten is loaded with superstars such as Cody Zeller at Indiana, Deshaun Thomas at Ohio State and Trey Burke at Michigan.
Plus, it’s the Big Ten. What are we talking about point guards for anyway? Shouldn’t the discussion be about blue-collared big guys who bang in the paint for 40 minutes like gladiators or (Michigan State) Spartans?
Well, Aaron Craft, who many national media pundits already believe is the best point guard in the nation heading into 2012-13, represents much more than those eight points per contest. In fact, he probably comes away from each game with more battle scars than those aforementioned big guys anyway.
Craft may not ultimately win the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, but he has just as much of a chance as any of the other Big Ten stars. Here are five reasons why.
Any discussion about Aaron Craft has to start with his defensive prowess.
In fact, ask yourself this. Have you ever read any article or listened to any interview about the Buckeyes point guard where the main focus is not on his defense?
There’s a reason you probably haven’t.
There is no bigger pest in college basketball than Aaron Craft, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. He is a walking nightmare for opposing point guards and harasses their every move for 40 minutes.
Craft was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season, wouldn’t hesitate to draw a charge from a rhinoceros and accounts for an incredible amount of turnovers. He averaged 2.5 steals per game last year (good enough for best in the conference) and was second in the nation in total steals.
There is no reason to expect Craft’s defense to tailor off as he enters his junior season. That spells trouble for the rest of the Big Ten.
Frankly speaking, as great as Craft’s defensive abilities are, he is not going to be named the conference’s MVP if he doesn’t increase his offensive production.
Last season, Craft averaged a respectable but not spectacular 8.8 points and 4.6 assists per contest. However, those scoring numbers were undoubtedly influenced by the fact that Craft was playing with All-American Jared Sullinger and consistent scoring threat William Buford.
I fully expect Craft to play a more significant role in the offense this season. After all, those points that depart with Sullinger and Buford are going to have to be scored by someone if the Buckeyes hope to remain in the Big Ten race.
It’s not as if Craft is incapable of scoring. In fact, he shot a better than advertised 50 percent from the field last year.
Anyone who doubts that Craft has the ability to be an integral part of the offense should go back and watch last season’s NCAA tournament game against Gonzaga. Craft, sensing his team was in trouble facing an early deficit, stepped up his offensive production and ended up with 17 points.
Look for Ohio State’s floor general to do the same this year when it is needed.
Like it or not, almost any type of MVP award is going to come from someone who is constantly in the spotlight. Blame the media if you want, but when is the last time someone from San Jose State won National Player of the Year?
Fortunately for Aaron Craft, he does not have to worry about a lack of opportunities to shine on a national stage. After all, he plays for one of the marquee programs in the Big Ten (and nation) and should be playing in March.
Furthermore, Ohio State has games scheduled against powerhouses such as Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State, as well as contests with other household-name programs like Wisconsin and Marquette. Nothing attracts praise and player of the year momentum like big-time performances in big-time games.
Aaron Craft will have plenty of chances to show the nation’s fans and media what he is capable of.
Speaking of the national spotlight, Aaron Craft has another thing going for him that not every player in the Big Ten does.
The national media loves him.
To get an idea why, take a look at this gushing description from a national column on CBSSports.com before last year’s Final Four:
Craft is the All-American kid. He got his first B-plus in chemistry last fall. He wants to major in pre-med. He runs a couple of Bible studies each week, coaches the intramural managers team -- and speaks like someone twenty years his elder. He boasts every possible intangible on the court…Matta has said numerous times he'd be ecstatic if one of his daughters wound up marrying Craft -- or someone just like him.
Good luck finding another coach in America who openly pines for his daughters to marry one of his players.
The media eats up the fact that Craft is a smart jock, so to speak. ESPN runs columns about how he is still bothered by his lone “B” from freshman year, Sports Illustrated sneaks in paragraphs about his academic aptitude in articles about Deshaun Thomas and television stations ran the video of Craft solving the Rubik’s cube approximately 3,000 times last season.
It’s not just the brains that make Craft appealing to the media. His old-school grittiness is the type of attribute that national pundits love to talk about. Heck, ESPN put out an article over the summer called “Aaron Craft Still Tougher Than You” about the surgery Craft had to remove bone chips that were jamming against his tibia.
As long as Craft keeps racking up awards such as the NCAA’s Elite 89 Honor (given to the player who reaches the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among peers) to go along with his basketball abilities, he will be a national favorite.
Even with the Buckeyes losing Jared Sullinger and William Buford, nobody is really expecting the scarlet and gray to fall off the face of the college basketball earth this year. In fact, many have Ohio State in their preseason top 10.
However, Thad Matta (primarily due to the uncertainty revolving around the scholarship situation this year) did not bring in his typical stellar recruiting class to replace his departed talent.
Consequently, there aren’t a lot of people predicting a repeat trip to the Final Four. Furthermore, most college basketball analysts are basically handing the Big Ten race to Indiana, despite the league’s overall toughness.
While I am not necessarily predicting that the Buckeyes will be playing in the Final Four again, this is a team that has won at least a share of five of the last seven Big Ten championships, including the past three. They are still dangerous.
If the Buckeyes exceed expectations and contend in the Big Ten and make a deep run in March, it will only help their leader’s chances at the Big Ten Player of the Year Award.