Aaron Craft took the shot that every basketball player dreams of growing up and sent his Ohio State Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 in the process. What’s more, he proved to the country and numerous detractors that the talented but inconsistent Buckeyes have the ingredients to make a national title run.
From the moment the preseason polls generously put Thad Matta’s squad in the Top Five, the repeated mantra concerning Ohio State was if it could develop a reliable scorer outside of Deshaun Thomas to go along with its tenacious defense, it could be a legitimate threat.
In an ironic twist, the Buckeyes’ national title hopes emerged from their lowest point of the season. After the 71-49 embarrassment against Wisconsin in Madison, Aaron Craft put the offense on his back right when Thomas started to struggle from the field.
He destroyed Michigan State and Indiana in the stretch run of the regular season to put the Buckeyes in position for a favorable postseason seed and then won Most Valuable Player honors in the Big Ten tournament by continuing his offensive surge. Most promisingly, he continued to play the high-level caliber of defense he is known for.
Yes, Ohio State has and will continue to win games on the strength of its lockdown defense that forces turnovers and creates transition opportunities for easy baskets. But with Craft’s offense in tow and Thomas’ improved shot selection in the postseason, the Buckeyes are a multidimensional threat for the first time since Jared Sullinger took his talents to the NBA.
Let’s take a second to delve into what Craft’s shot could potentially mean. He almost single-handedly cost the Buckeyes the game against Iowa State with turnovers, missed free throws and a ticky-tack foul on the defensive side. Not only did he redeem himself for those errors with the ice-water-in-the-veins game winner, he also prevented any crisis confidence for himself going forward.
Even LeBron James was impressed:
LeBron James @KingJames
AARON CRAFT!!!! #GoBucks2013-3-24 18:35:36
His perimeter shot has been the weak part of his overall game throughout his career in Columbus, and an individual collapse on a national stage would not have made him feel any better about it. Now the only thing people will talk about when it comes to Craft and the matchup with the Cyclones was the fact that he hit the biggest shot in the tournament thus far.
If Craft can use the momentum from that big shot to propel his perimeter game and add it to his all-world defense and ability to slash to the lane, he will be the best point guard left in the West Region (if not, Mark Lyons will gladly take that title). A prime-time matchup with Arizona and then a game against one of the upstarts at the top of the bracket (Ole Miss, Wichita State or La Salle) are all that stand in the way of a trip to Atlanta.
The ingredients are in place for Thad Matta to start cooking. He has the best scorer in the Big Ten and someone who can hit the basket from the outside or inside in Thomas, a lockdown defense propelled by Craft and Shannon Scott and finally the consistent second scorer he has searched for all season. He also has as clear of a path to the Final Four as one can ask for at this stage of the season.
Thank Craft’s shot for knocking off Iowa State in the Round of 32, but don’t forget what it may mean going forward: a trip to the Final Four and potential national title run for the Buckeyes with an elite defense already established and a dangerous offense waiting in the wings.