Archive - Dec 2, 2011
Last night saw the opening of the SEC/Big East Challenge, which like the ACC/Big 10 Challenge pits two major conferences against each other in a series of contests. Of course, this weekend also boasts some major marquee match-ups. Conference play is just around the corner and we are going to get a strong picture of which teams are contenders or pretenders. Let's kick off the Daily:
Player of the Week
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
The Buckeyes sophomore certainly looked like the Big Ten’s top point guard in an 85-63 blowout win Tuesday against No. 3 Duke that sort of summed up the Big Ten’s dominance (8-4 record) over the ACC in the Conference's annual challenge. Craft totaled 17 points, eight assists, five rebounds and a steal for No. 2 Ohio State, but his contributions far outweighed his stat line. Craft was everywhere — setting up the offense, finding seams in the Duke defense to drive and dish down low for easy baskets, hitting key shots, diving for loose balls … you name it, Craft did it Tuesday. He was a big reason the Buckeyes had three other players (Jared Sullinger, 21; William Buford 20; Deshaun Thomas 18) score in double figures.
Somebody has to initiate the offense for coach Thad Matta, and Craft seems to make all the right decisions. Only a sophomore, every once in a while he does throw a bad pass, but more often than not it’s a quality look. His 2.7 (41-15) assist-to-turnover ratio ranks fourth in the Big Ten, as it did last year at 2.24. The first-year starter (he backed up Jon Diebler last season) averaged 6.9 points per game last season but is up to 10.3 this year.
His defense is also a key reason the Buckeyes are the favorite to basically run away with the Big Ten. Craft marginalized Duke junior Seth Curry to just seven points (his lowest output of the season), five of which came when Craft was trailing another guard. Curry finished just 3-of-8 (37.5 percent) from the field and 1-of-6 from long range. Curry came in shooting 51.6 percent, but had a tough time even being able to call for a pass with Craft shadowing him.
Craft also had 15 points, eight assists, four steals and three rebounds last Friday, Nov. 25 in an 80-47 win against Valparaiso, making his average stat line for the week: 16 points, eight assists, 2.5 steals, four rebounds per game.
William Buford and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Buford, a senior guard, and Sullinger, a sophomore forward, continue to score mostly at will for the Buckeyes. Sure, against Duke, Sullinger didn’t collect double-digit rebounds for the first time since Nov. 15 against Florida, but no worries. He just grabbed eight, plus put up 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting. His defense still needs some work (Duke’s Mason Plumlee and brother Miles combined for 22 points Tuesday), but he stayed out of foul trouble in the process. The 6-9 NBA prospect played smart for a team that needed him to remain on the court to keep the Blue Devils at bay. Last Friday, Nov. 25, Sullinger put up his fourth double-double of the season against Valparaiso by scoring 14 points and tallying 14 rebounds.
Meanwhile, William Buford played a team-high 39 minutes while scoring 20 points and dishing out four assists. This came four days after he put up 25 while hitting four threes against Valparaiso.
Why not just include the entire Buckeyes team after a dominating performance? You could throw sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas in here too for his performance against Duke (18 points, five rebounds, 8-of-12 shooting) but he hasn’t shown that type of flair consistently. Buford and Sullinger are offensive weapons that just don’t come around very often on the same collegiate team. Simply put, it’ll be entertaining to watch how teams go about defending the Buckeyes.