An easy criticism to level at the AP No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes is their lack of balanced scoring production. As Saturday's 61-58 victory over Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinal proved, though, the Bucks are an even more legitimate force to be reckoned with when PG Aaron Craft finds his shot.
Craft put up a game-high 20 points while still contributing in his typical areas of strength, but for Ohio State to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, Craft must continually get into the act as a scorer.
Typically known as a strong distributor and a stupendous perimeter defender, it is time for Craft to continue changing his image if the Buckeyes are to navigate March Madness with substantial success.
The Buckeyes get sporadic production from other players, but the only true, go-to option is star forward Deshaun Thomas—the only player on Thad Matta's squad that averages in double-figures at 19.7 points per contest.
Even facing such a strong defensive squad as Michigan State, the past two matchups against Sparty yielded two of Craft's three 20-plus point games of the 2012-13 season.
When Craft is sinking buckets, it elevates the rest of his game, as evidenced by his nine assists and four steals on Saturday. It also lifts his teammates and gives the Buckeyes' offense so much more versatility.
The key run the Buckeyes went on against Michigan State was catalyzed by Craft, who wound up sinking nine of his 13 shots from the field.
Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports had some strong words of praise for the Buckeye point guard, as he compared him very favorably to Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke.
Doug Gottlieb @GottliebShow
I love Trey Burke,great speed,terrific off a ball screen--Aaron Craft can run my team any day--not the PRO talent,but better college guard2013-3-16 22:23:24
Craft has the ability to drive to the hole and finish in traffic, and that's especially useful since he shoots nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Confidence in his jumper is sporadic, as Craft is a bit streaky in that regard. Although it's been a bit of a tough shooting year overall for the junior, there can be no more hesitation once the bright lights of the Big Dance come on.
Whether the matchup against the Spartans requires Craft to be assertive or not is unclear, but it is an encouraging trend for OSU.
Although he is taking more shots this year than at any other point during his career, Craft needs to seek even more looks—and convert them—for the Buckeyes to be considered as a truly legitimate national title contender.