COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two things about Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft:
For most of the season, I’ve thought opponents have defended him poorly, Michigan State being the latest.
And, if I were coaching a college basketball team, I’d want him on it.
My column today on Keith Appling’s struggles against Craft and the Spartans’ excessive respect for Craft’s offensive game shouldn’t be misconstrued as disrespect for the Buckeyes junior, known for his in-your-face defense.
Craft is a fantastic defensive player. More importantly, an annoying defensive player who winds up embedded in the heads of players more talented than he is, such as Appling and Michigan’s Trey Burke.
Craft is a competent, though limited offensive point guard. But when opponents defend him too closely — perhaps because it’s natural for opposing guards to defend him as he defends them — it allows Craft to create offensively and wastes energy unnecessarily of players such as Appling and Burke.
I also believe Craft receives recognition beyond his abilities for reasons most are afraid to say — he’s a rosey-cheeked white guy. If he’s not, if he looks like Appling, I don’t think he’d be preseason All-Big Ten or featured in Sports Illustrated. That’s not his fault. But it’s the fault of writers who don’t necessarily understand the game or what he brings to it, but fall in love with his reputation and look.
All of that said, Craft has value. More value than his ability as a player because of what he does to the heads of his foes.
Fans know this, because he irks many of you, too.
Where I believe MSU failed against Craft Sunday was that it didn’t try messing with his head — by not guarding him at all outside of the paint and seeing what it does to his confidence as an already suspect shooter. If he makes a few, so be it. But there is no excuse to guard him so closely or defend him above ball-screens, allowing him to score off the dribble.
It cost MSU dearly Sunday. Cost them the game in my opinion. And was something the Spartans could have controlled even on a miserable day for Appling.