Thad Matta preferred not to ponder what kind of scorer Aaron Craft could be in an offense that didn’t possess big man Jared Sullinger.
Instead, Ohio State’s head coach was content remembering the Buckeyes’ offense while relying on one of the best big men in college basketball in each of the last two seasons.
That doesn’t mean Matta doesn’t think Craft is capable of upping his scoring considerably, but the point guard was simply content being relied on to do the things to help the Buckeyes be a better basketball team in the past.
Playing alongside Sullinger the past two seasons, scoring wasn’t one of those things.
“In the two years Aaron has been here, he has asked himself what this team needs for him to do to help it win and if scoring is what it is this year, I think he knows that,” Matta said Wednesday. “I think he has to be more of a threat.”
If Craft’s performance in Ohio State’s 82-60 win over Albany in its season-opener on Sunday is any indication – the junior scored 20 points, seven assists and only one turnover – the Buckeyes could be in good hands.
“We would obviously take those numbers, but they’ll be hard to come by,” said Matta, who acknowledged the team is still working diligently to identify scorers. “I like him being offensive-minded for our sake.”
The junior is capable, as he showed prolific scoring ability in certain instances last year. Craft was most lethal with his jump shot when he achieved open looks, but Matta imagines the junior’s entire offensive repertoire to be greatly expanded this season.
“He is a completely different player than he was last year,” the OSU coach said. “His offense has really taken form. He has shot the ball well, he’s driving, he’s finishing and he has just scored well. We’re going to need him.”
A player who scored 25 points per game for his AAU team in high school, Craft’s role was different through the first two years of his collegiate career. Not always leaned on as a scorer – particularly with the presence of such players as Sullinger and William Buford in the lineup – Craft was instead the team’s offensive facilitator.
Though he’ll continue to try to find open scorers this season, Craft has a better aware- ness now that Matta wants him to shoot when he has open looks, especially after making 50.0 percent of his 230 field-goal attempts a year ago.
“We have a lot of guys that have worked really hard and can knock down a lot of shots, so I’m just trying to be unselfish and make a play for someone else and see where we can go,” Craft said. “At the same time I understand that if I have the chance to score for us, I am confident in my ability to do that, too.”
After arriving at Ohio State two years ago as an unknown, Craft quickly asserted himself as one of the premier point guards in the country through his first two seasons with the Buckeyes.
But that came for being known for his intense defense and an unrelenting will to pressure opposing teams. Craft now enters his junior season as one of the leaders of a squad still searching to find its identity.
Assuming Craft plays a considerable role in helping the Buckeyes find that identity, expect this year’s team to be a fast-paced squad that hangs its hat on tough defense, moving quickly in transition and playing smart offensive basketball.
The point guard has spoken about being more aggressive in creating his own shot, taking open looks and driving to the rim, but Craft cannot help himself from being defensive-minded.
Adding a few more points to his average this year, however, could mean all the difference for an Ohio State team looking to make yet another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
“Defensively we’re going to be the same, but offensively we’re probably going to be different,” Craft said. “Without Jared and Will, we have to find ways to score. We are just going to try and take what opposing defenses give us.”
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