IU preparing for ball-hawking Buckeyes

In November when Indiana was preparing to play Long Island-Brooklyn, IU coach Tom Crean compared the Blackbirds’ point guard Jason Brickman to Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and called Craft one of the best players who has ever played the game.

It’s unknown exactly how long Crean’s list of best players is and precisely where Craft ranks on it, but with the Hoosiers preparing to play No. 22 Ohio State at 4 p.m. today at Assembly Hall, Crean didn’t back down from the sentiment.

Craft, the Buckeyes’ gritty senior point guard, is projected to be a second-round NBA draft pick in July even though he’s never been a scoring machine, averaging a modest 9.5 points per game. But he is arguably the nation’s peskiest on-ball defender, and Crean said he affects the game in ways that players who average twice as many points do not.

“The leadership, I think, is clear,” Crean said. “The intelligence is clear. The toughness is clear, but I think even the fact that he’ll take and make big plays and big shots, but doesn’t have to be the one that make the shot is clear. I’m sure everybody’s seen that.

What separates him for me is the ground he covers every possession. He does multiple things, multiple times in a possession almost every possession. That’s hard to do. He can be in the corner guarding somebody and come all the way over on the other side and help. He can be playing the ball. As we told our young guys, ‘you have no idea what you’re getting ready to see when it comes to hand speed and hand quickness.’ … He’s been doing that since the beginning.”

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Craft was named a preseason All-American by several publications this year and an All-Big Ten first teamer last season despite the fact that he’s never averaged more than 10.0 points per game in a season. He did, however, rank second in the Big Ten in assists (4.6 per game) and steals (2.1 per game) last season, and this year he’s near the top of those categories again. His 4.6 assists per game rank him third behind only Penn State’s Tim Frazier and Michigan State’s Keith Appling, and his 2.5 steals per game lead the Big Ten and rank him 10th in Division I.

“The thing that I look at him and see is a guy that’s understood his impact on winning,” Crean said. “He’s one of those rare people that can set the pace for his team, and he’s very good at trying to set the pace for the other team. When we didn’t let him do that last year down there, we won. When we let him do it here, we lost. … That’s a unique trait, and he’s got it.”

And what makes Ohio State (22-7 overall, 9-7 in the Big Ten) so difficult to deal with is they have another point guard who is capable of a lot of the same.

Junior Shannon Scott has been serving as Craft’s understudy the past three years, and this year the Buckeyes have put the two on the floor together more than ever before. Scott has actually started 21 games this season alongside Craft, and even though he hasn’t been lately, there is still plenty of time in any given game when the Big Ten’s most relentless ball-hawks are on the floor at the same time. Even as a reserve, Scott ranks second only to Craft in the Big Ten with 2.1 steals per game. He’s also 10th in the conference with 3.5 assists.

Thanks to Craft and Scott’s contributions, the Buckeyes rank second in the Big Ten in steals with 7.5 per game and lead the league in turnovers caused with 14.3 per game. They cause turnovers on 22 percent of their opponent’s possessions, which ranks first in the Big Ten and 16th in Division I.

“They are tremendous defensively,” Crean said. “They attack the dribble. They do a great job of getting into the elbows. They come off their man. They can cover a lot of ground, they’re very, very experienced and they use that experience to create havoc.”

All of that sounds like a formula for disaster for an Indiana team that commits a Big Ten-worst 15.1 turnovers per game and gives the ball away on 22.1 percent of its possessions, a number that ranks 331st nationally. The Hoosiers’ strategy for avoiding turnovers against the Buckeyes is one that’s easier said than done.

“We just have to take care of the ball,” freshman forward Devin Davis said. “Be patient and use the whole court.”

Said sophomore forward Austin Etherington: “You’ve just gotta be ready for it. You can’t not be not strong with the ball, you just have to make sure you take care of it.’

Along with the ball-pressure from Craft and Scott, the Buckeyes also boast one of the league’s most versatile power forwards in junior LaQuinton Ross (14.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg), a dangerous shooting guard in Lenzelle Smith Jr. (11.6 ppg), a high-flying wing in junior Sam Thompson and a true center in Amir Willliams.

The Hoosiers (16-12, 6-9) will certainly be underdogs, but they are feeling some confidence after upsetting No. 20 Iowa on Thursday. It’s been a largely disappointing season for the young Indiana squad, but they do have three wins over ranked opponents and have won two of their last three after a three-game losing streak appeared to be taking their season into a downward spiral.

“We know we can beat any team in the Big Ten,” Etherington said. “Iowa beat all of the top teams. We’ve beat a few of the top teams. You see where we are in the standings, and that just shows how good the Big Ten is, but also you can win on any given night. You’ve just gotta make sure you bring it every day.”

NOTE: Crean had previously explained that sophomore forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea’s discipline after his OWI arrest was “ongoing,” even once his two-game suspension was over. Crean was asked on Saturday specifically what that discipline was and how he’d gone “over-and-above” that, as Crean had said, to earn his reinstatement.

“We’re just continuing to have his discipline ongoing,” Crean said. “You’re welcome to refer back to that statement, but I’m not going to discuss it any further. I don’t think you expect me to, but I appreciate the attempt. We’re going to keep doing what we do. We never really talked about what we had him do, and we’re not going to do it now. It’s not important that that’s anything other than in-house.”

4 comments

  1. #1
    Aruss
    Monday, December 3, 2012 – 11:58 AM UTC
    I’m calling it now. By his senior year at IU, Fischer will be a better player than Cody is now. Fischer’s nickname should be The Big Fundamental.

    Ummm, yeah Aruss. Just like Theo coming to IU. Fruity Fr@it.

  2. Won’t be able to watch live with y’all today. Headed to another Magic game to see Victor shine! Go Hoosiers!

Comments are closed.