Previewing Ohio State vs. Arizona: Can Aaron Craft Stop Mark Lyons?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 27th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
The Ohio State Buckeyes haven’t lost since February 17 when they took a shellacking in Madison, but since that debacle they have ripped off 10 straight wins and have arguably been the hottest team from the Big Ten. Junior guard Aaron Craft is creating a new role for himself by controlling games in the critical minutes and proving that he isn’t afraid to take the big shot. But standing between the Buckeyes and another Final Four is an equally hot Arizona squad who has won two NCAA Tournament games by an average 20 points. Can the Buckeyes get past Sean Miller’s Wildcats? Let’s assess two key factors that will determine the outcome of the game.
- Craft will have his toughest defensive assignment so far this season. Craft defended quality point guards in the Big Ten such as Trey Burke and Andre Hollins but he may have an even tougher time defending Mark Lyons. Lyons has the ability to take anybody off the dribble and Miller likes to call isolation plays for him at the top of the key during the final minutes of the game. Even though he only shoots 33% from beyond the arc, confidence is not one of his weaknesses because he will pull the trigger at any time. He’s also been scorching hot in the NCAA Tournament so far, averaging 25 PPG. Craft did an effective job on Burke but the Michigan guard settled for a number of long jumpers in both games against the Buckeyes. It will be interesting to see if Craft will have anything left in his tank this week during the last six minutes of the game after exhausting most of his energy trying to lock down Lyons. The Buckeyes’ recent wins have been a direct result of Craft impacting the game offensively, but this match-up will certainly test his stamina.
- Craft was the hero against Iowa State, but it is Deshaun Thomas’ turn. Thomas did not enter the NBA Draft a year ago because he wanted to prove that he can lead the Buckeyes after the departure of Jared Sullinger. His 20 PPG during the season proves that he has met those high expectations but the possibility of having a big performance in the Tournament during a pivotal game will wow scouts and the hoops nation in general. Craft waved him off at the top of the key against the Cyclones to drill the game-winner but Thomas will need to demand the ball against the Wildcats to take over the game. Considering that Craft will be busy chasing down Lyons for most of his time on the floor, he will gladly pass the torch back to Thomas as the primary scoring option. The Wildcats are not a great defensive team (48.7% eFG) overall, and Solomon Hill may not have the defensive intensity to hang with Thomas; thus, the stage is set for Thomas to have a huge game but when he does inevitably draw two defenders, he will need to find either Laquinton Ross or Shannon Scott to take the shot.
Neither team will run away with this game but it will likely come down to these key players at the end of the game. The Buckeyes have two guys – Craft and Thomas – who have proven that they can lead a team, but the Wildcats also have Lyons and Hill to contribute to what promises to be a great game.