Mar 15, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft (4) handles the ball against the Loyola Greyhounds during the first half in the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the CONSOL Energy Center. Ohio State won 78-59. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
From where I am sitting there is only one true X factor in tonight's game. There isn't one on each side as is customary. There is just one. And it is the rosy cheeked devil, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment Buckeye fans. The dude is murder on an offense. If you get the chance to listen to the Eleven Warriors podcast* I brought up Craft's descriptiveness on the defensive end. He is so good at extending the Buckeye defense, essentially by himself, to 35 and 40 feet from the basket. From where it is impossible to run anything resembling an offense. Crafts defense is a problem, but UC does have some solutions. I for one would have JaQuon Parker imitate the offense because DeShaun Thomas, who will most likely be matched up with Parker, isn't nearly as disruptive on the perimeter. Craft's defense is an issue, but the Cats have enough versatility to mitigate that to some extent by taking Cashmere Wright off the ball.
Where Craft can really stamp his signature on this game is on the offensive end. It's on that end of the floor where Craft has made his biggest jump in recent weeks.
My assertions here are based off a simple assumption. I am betting that Mick Cronin comes out in a zone. Why would Cronin come out in a zone after the 2-3 zone was a shambles against Florida State? Because the Buckeyes aren't a good perimeter team in general. And when William Buford is off, and he is off now**, they are a borderline terrible team on the perimeter.
** In the Big 10 and NCAA Tournaments Buford is hitting on 36.58 per cent of his shots from the field and 27.3 per cent of his shots from three. His true shooting percent over the same stretch is 60.56 (12 of 15 ft) but his effective field goal percentage is 43.46.
Beyond the point of Buford playing zone is smart because Ohio State is one of the few remaining practitioners of the mid range game. Take a look at their shot distribution.
|Percent of Attempts||Shooting Percentage|
|2 Point Jumpers||40||39|
|3 Point Shots||26||33|
Why wouldn't you play zone against that? The short answer is that you would. And that is why what Craft does on the offensive end in this game will probably be the turning point for this game. Craft is capible of getting into gaps and making plays at the weak points of the zone, at the top of the key and at the wing. That's whats worrying about Craft in this game. His ability to bull his way into compromising positions against Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon is the one thing that can blow this game open.
I am expecting a tight game. I don't think that Ohio State has enough offensive fire power to put away this defense. But the one player who can tip the dynamic of this game is Craft. If Craft replicates his performance from last Sunday it will be the end of the road for the Bearcats.