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Ohio State vs. Arizona: Aaron Craft Will Lead Efficient Buckeyes Past Wildcats

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes handles the ball against the Iowa State Cyclones in the second half during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Timothy RappFeatured Columnist IVAugust 23, 2015

One of the media narratives surrounding Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft is that he is annoying. He isn't. In fact, he seems like a nice kid.

You may also read about how he almost cost Ohio State the game with his performance down the stretch against Iowa State, even though he hit the game-winning three.

And lastly, you might even hear folks suggesting he won't win the duel with Arizona guard Mark Lyons in Ohio State's Sweet 16 matchup. Spoiler alert: He will, and it will be the primary factor in Ohio State's victory that sends them to the Elite Eight.

Lyons has been excellent for Arizona, averaging 15.4 points per game this season and 25.0 points in two tournament games. The Xavier transfer has plenty of tourney experience and can flat-out light up an opponent.

But Craft is one of the best on-ball defenders at the guard position in college basketball, and I would guess he'll be tasked with shadowing Lyons all over the court, frustrating the Wildcats' senior.

Craft also headlines an Ohio State team with four players—Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross—that shoot 35 percent or better from beyond the arc and aren't afraid to jack up threes. 

And as we saw against Iowa State, Craft isn't afraid to jack it up from downtown, either.

That's a problem for an Arizona team that does not defend the perimeter well and allowed teams to shoot 36.5 percent from three in the regular season—287th in the nation.

For all of the talent Arizona has (we haven't even mentioned Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson yet, two extremely skilled players), Ohio State is a superior defensive team and has done well to make the most of the possessions it has on offense, even if the Buckeyes can become a bit one-dimensional when they rely too heavily on Thomas (19.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG).

According to KenPom.com, Ohio State has the nation's 11th-most efficient offense and seventh-most efficient defense. Arizona ranks No. 16 and 31 in those respective categories. 

Hardly shabby, of course, but Ohio State is clearly the more efficient team.

It's also the more battle-tested team.

While Ohio State won the Big Ten tournament in the country's best conference this season, Arizona came into March Madness with just two wins against tournament teams since December, and both were against Colorado.

Despite beating Florida, Miami and San Diego State early in the year, the Wildcats went 0-6 against the Pac-12's top teams—UCLA, California and Oregon. Wins over Belmont and Harvard don't exactly dispel the notion that Arizona has shrunk against top competition late in the season.

When it really comes down to it, though, most teams in the nation don't have a lynchpin like Craft, the type of player capable of simply willing Ohio State to victory with grit, effort and leadership.

You can find Craft annoying if you so choose, or point out what he didn't do against Iowa State rather than what he pulled off in the end. But ask yourselves: What will you be saying when he leads the Buckeyes to the Final Four?

 

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