It is Aaron Craft’s intellectual nature that has set the foundation for his reputation, one of being a top-notch student with an unmatched basketball IQ. Combine that with an insatiable desire to be the best defender in college basketball, and it’s no wonder Ohio State’s junior point guard has long been a fan favorite.
But those who have learned to admire Craft – and his tendency to analyze just about everything, regardless of whether it’s related to basketball – will have to excuse OSU head coach Thad Matta for urging the bright junior to occasionally shut off his brain.
“I am a thinker and I like to do that a little too much, whether it’s on the court or off of it,” Craft said, agreeing with Matta’s assertion that thinking too much could be the reason for the point guard’s recent shooting slump.
Perhaps Craft’s extra thoughts are just part of the adjustment process he’s currently fighting through, as he works diligently to adjust his mentality from being a facilitator to one of Ohio State’s main scoring threats.
If the Buckeyes’ first six games are any indication of what Matta expects – and needs – from Craft, it’s for the junior to be aggressive with the basketball and knock down open shots he’s inevitably going to achieve.
Craft has taken 59 shots this season – second most behind only junior forward Deshaun Thomas – and Matta designed most of those looks as opposing teams dedicated their defensive attention to Thomas, the lone proven scorer on Ohio State’s roster.
The bad news for Ohio State is that Craft has converted on only 37.3 percent of those shots this season, averaging 12.0 points per game in the process.
In the Buckeyes only loss this season – a 73-68 loss at No. 2 Duke on Nov. 28 – Craft converted on only three of 15 shot attempts, many of which came in the form of open looks late in the second half in a closely contested game.
The Blue Devils made it a point to force Ohio State to beat them with someone other than Thomas. The Buckeyes couldn’t.
“The last time I had to make a conscious effort to score was back in high school,” Craft said, “so it has been a progression and getting a feel for when to attack, when not to and when to take a good shot and when to pass it up.”
Matta trusts Craft to understand those principles, and the head coach won’t hesitate to throw his point guard into situations where he’s supposed to shoot the ball. If there’s a transition period from being a pass-first player, Matta believes that will be short-lived.
Instead, the head coach hasn’t given much though about Craft’s recent shooting struggles. Given what he saw out of Craft while he was playing his high school ball at Findlay (Ohio) Liberty-Benton, Matta feels as if it is only a matter of time before the point guard finds his stroke.
“I have given (his recent shooting struggles) some thought, but I haven’t done anything drastic in terms of inventing a shot doctor or anything like that,” Matta said. “I don’t know if there is a guy in college basketball that has shot more than Aaron has – just alone his freshman year and what he and (former guard) Jon Diebler used to do before practice and after practice. It is just more of him getting back his comfort because he shot it really well this week in practice.”
Craft has proven his value on the defensive end, which is something that has earned attention since he first stepped on Ohio State’s court as a freshman. That will always continue, and it was evident in the Buckeyes’ most recent win over Northern Kentucky.
Despite poor shooting against the Norse – Craft shot 2-for-9 from the field – Matta said Craft played perhaps the most complete defensive game he’s had at Ohio State.
But it’s clear the Buckeyes need Craft to become a reliable scorer on top of what he brings on defense if they want to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The junior is aware of what his team needs, and vows to bring it.
“I think my senior year of high school was the best that I’ve shot the ball for an entire season and sometimes you go through some slumps – I did my senior year, too,” Craft said. “That was three years ago and I’ve put a whole lot more work into it since then.
“I am just going to continue to trust in myself, my teammates, my coaches. They still have faith in me to take an open shot and they think it is going to go in, so I can’t let them down. I have to keep shooting it.”
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