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The Big Ten race that’s never over: An ode to Aaron Craft

From Michigan State’s perspective, Ohio State’s 67-58 stunner at Indiana Tuesday night is awesome and disheartening all at once.

The Spartans must feel somewhat as if they’ve blown a chance at an outright Big Ten championship. Or, at the very least, having a shared title within their control.

Conversely, this ain’t over. And, for MSU, that’s better than it being over. Which it seemed it was until Tuesday night.

“I don’t see Indiana losing twice,” Derrick Nix said after MSU’s loss at Michigan Sunday.

One down, one to go.

The Hoosiers close the regular season at Michigan Sunday. And, should the Wolverines win, there could be four-way shared title (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and either MSU or Wisconsin). That’s a lot banners. And, in my opinion, like last year, makes the Big Ten tournament worth a little more.

The entertainment Tuesday night, for me, was also in seeing Aaron Craft play so well (15 points, 4 assists, 4 steals), and do so when it mattered most.

And then, of course, all the emails and tweets that followed about this “rosey cheeked white guy” turning in an All-Big Ten-worthy performance — the reaction mostly stemming from this blog I wrote on Feb. 25:

There’s nothing wrong with Aaron Craft’s game other than the hype surrounding it

Which followed this column about Appling’s struggles at Ohio State and the Spartans’ over-respect of Craft’s offensive game.

Many of the tweets and emails were good-natured ribbing. A few, from the Buckeyes crowd, were expectedly less light-hearted (Not surprising, given that in a straw poll of college football fans visiting East Lansing last fall, Ohio State fans were universally considered the most uncouth.).

Craft was fantastic Tuesday. As he was against MSU.

It doesn’t change the column or the blog. He still receives more hype than he would if he were black and that has been the case throughout his college career. So many around the sport — mostly those not wearing scarlet and gray briefs this morning — agree with me on this.

I never said Craft was a bad player. Quite the opposite. I’d want him on my team. I never said I disliked him. I don’t know him beyond a couple press conferences. I simply disapprove the how the media has over-publicized him.

A few days after the blog, I received these tweets from @MDJones_20.

“Just wanted to say I am using your Aaron Craft article for a paper I am writing about perceptions of race.”

“People upset by that article are out of touch or afraid to talk about race like most people in this country.”

“So many people viewed it as an attack because you were ‘jealous’ or something but it was just a social observation.”

Well said.

I don’t believe you’ll find a black player or coach in college basketball who doesn’t agree with me on this.

Craft may play his way onto the Big Ten’s first team. But it shouldn’t be in front of DeShaun Thomas, Trey Burke, Cody Zeller or Victor Oladipo.

And, if he takes the final spot, ahead of Tim Hardaway Jr., D.J. Richardson, Gary Harris, Andre Hollins, Adreian Payne or Trevor Mbakwe, let’s make sure we first imagine how we’d perceived each of those guys if they, too, were white.

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19 Responses to The Big Ten race that’s never over: An ode to Aaron Craft

  1. avatar Spartan 81 says:

    The results of last night are acknowledged but ignored. We have been down this road before Graham. I have pushed all thoughts of a four way logjam at 13-5 out of my mind and so should our players. We just have to start winning games and closing games we have to win tomorrow night. I wont even look at the standings untill we win that game. This team has been texting while driving, both hands on the wheel tomorrow night.

  2. avatar MSU Owns Beilien says:

    So who gets the #1 seed in the BTT if MSU, scUM, IU and OSU all finish 13-5? Would MSU due to we beat UW twice while everyone else has a loss to them?

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      No, MSU has two losses to Indiana, while U-M (if it wins Sunday) and Ohio State have wins over the Hoosiers. That makes MSU the No. 4 seed, as I understand it.

      The No. 1 seed would be Indiana, because of those two wins over the Spartans, while the other league champs would have split.

      Ohio State would be the 2, via its split against Wisconsin, while Michigan would be the 3, because it lost its only meeting with the Badgers — the next tiebreaker.

  3. avatar KFit says:

    Unfortunately, the issue of race and perception is something that needs to be discussed frequently. So thank you, Graham. The reality is that we still live in a world where black players are generally considered to be “natural athletes” while white players are “scrappy, hard-working, and smart.” Instead of perpetuating myths, the media should add nuance and detail to our understanding of the world.

  4. avatar Ghost of Biggie says:

    “Scrappy, hardworking and smart”. Isn’t that Draymond Green. “Natural athlete”. Isn’t that Justin Verlander?

  5. avatar Ryan says:

    Wow, what is it about you and race? This is 2013, people generally aren’t opposed to talking about race..when it matters. Yes, Aaron Craft is white, (Mostly white anyways, he is also a quarter Filipino) he is also the best point guard in the league. Trey Burke is very good, but Craft affects the game in so many more ways than Burke. You obviously only look at two things when analyzing basketball, stats and race, which is sad because when you limit yourself to these two things your writing and general knowledge suffer greatly.

  6. avatar Bryan says:

    “I don’t believe you’ll find a black player or coach in college basketball who doesn’t agree with me on this.” Did you ask any? Why not? Where is your proof of your statement? It is hard for me to believe you would go to publication without backing up statements like this. Let’s look at the sportscenter highlights from the IU OSU game. The first 3/4 of the highlight were Oladipo fouling, then blocking, then shooting a three then dunking. Even though he had 4 turnovers and only 7 points, most of the highlight was about him. Read the ESPN the magazine article that discusses race and Aaron Craft. They actually talk to people around the league and otherwise rather than just saying that they would all agree. I understand this is a blog, but your blanket statements without any support discredit any rationale discussion we could have about race and its perceptions as pertaining to college basketball.

    “So many around the sport — mostly those not wearing scarlet and gray briefs this morning — agree with me on this.” Who are they? Some links here would be great. Here is a idea you could chew on for a bit “John Beilein says Aaron Craft is the best defender he’s seen in 35 years.” That would be one wearing Maize and Blue who would not agree with you it seems.

  7. avatar pfitz says:

    “A few, from the Buckeyes crowd, were expectedly less light-hearted (Not surprising, given that in a straw poll of college football fans visiting East Lansing last fall, Ohio State fans were universally considered the most uncouth.)”

    What a lame thing to say. One has nothing to do with the other and I would love to see this “straw poll”. You screwed up big time with your comments about Craft and you still won’t own it. Adding the dig about the fans makes you look even worse. “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”

  8. avatar Nate says:

    Using the anonymous “So many around the sport” really adds to your credibility. Sometimes the contributions of white people are properly valued. You either have too much white guilt to admit it or you are like a lot of dumb fans that can only see contributions made through the prism of scoring. There are many ways to assert your will on a game besides scoring. Craft is a top player in the B1G regardless of your feelings of guilt or myopia about success in the game of basketball.

  9. avatar G&W Roses says:

    Graham,

    Personally, I did not have a problem with your post in regards to Aaron Craft. Honestly, I think you nailed it. The problem that many are having with that post (and this one) is the personal defense you are making. This blog should be focused on MSU athletics, yet it has turned into why you feel like what you said is justifiable.

    That said, I still have a maintained level of respect for you and your writing and look forward to hearing more about the Spartans!

  10. avatar Terrier says:

    Players on high-profile, successful teams receive a lot of hype. Many people (outside of Flint) look back at the career of Mateen Cleaves and wonder if the hype perhaps outpaced the game. 3-time All-American? 2-time B1G POY? That’s a lot awards for a guy who averaged 13.2 points per.

    But every time you saw him play, the Spartans seemed to win. They won Big 10 championships, they went to Final 4s. They won it all. They were ranked high every year, and played on national television every week. He was a winner, he was tough, and they couldn’t have done it without him, even though much of it boiled down to “intangibles.” Those guys get a lot of hype – deservedly.

    Bobby Hurley was much the same way. First-team All-American? Bobby Hurley? But he played for Duke and – much like Craft – drove people crazy. And he got mountains of hype.

    You say Aaron Craft is not as good as Trey Burke, but gets a lot more hype. Ok, fine. But his freshman year, Craft was playing for a team that spent part of the year ranked #1. Michigan was 9-9 in the conference. The next year, Craft help lead the Buckeyes to the Final Four, while Burke’s Wolverines were losing to the real “Ohio.”

    Reverse those – have Michigan go to the Final Four last year, with all the coverage that comes with that. Have the Buckeyes lose to Gonzaga in round 2. I suspect the hype surrounding these two would be different. It’s just the way the world is.

    You’re right one one thing about Aaron Craft – he gets in a lot of people’s heads. I think he’s in yours.

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      No terrier , its simple math, on MSU threads he gets single digit hits all the alumns have gone elsewhere, he has to get visiting fan bases involved to get the thread count up, ie average count is 5-8, when OSU or Indiana fans come on 50-80.

  11. avatar NJ Rob says:

    The next blog should be about all of the hype Burke gets just because he plays at UM…

    No other PG battles defensively like Craft…the kid will play pro and do well…and not because he’s white.

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