While Ohio State's frontcourt could experience some turmoil in this upcoming season, the backcourt will be the saving grace for the Buckeyes. Led by preseason Second Team All-American Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., as well as a strong bench, Ohio State will be in good hands up top. But how far can this star-studded backcourt take them?
If you're searching for defense, look no further than Aaron Craft. He was second in the B1G in steals at 2.1 a game, only trailing NBA draft pick Victor Oladipo. He's feared around the country for his defensive prowess and will give opposing point guards lots of trouble. He excels at sliding with opposing guards, never letting them get a step on him. He's not the fastest, but understands defensive angles better than arguably anyone in the country. In fact, if you Google Image search "Aaron Craft defense," you'll find examples in picture form of what I'm talking about. In every picture, he has his body in front of his man with his arms outstretched. Because of this, other ballhandlers can't step by him and cut to the basket. He's tenacious even when his man isn't driving to the basket, too. Just watch his defense on Michigan guard Nik Stauskas.
Aaron Craft steals the ball from Nik Stauskas (via Shane Ryan)
Look at how Craft never lets Stauskas past him. Craft uses his arms and chest to keep his man in front of him, practically swaddling him in a blanket of perimeter defensive glory. He forced a turnover in this specific play, and will do the same throughout the upcoming year.
Side note: I couldn't give more of a ringing endorsement to the heroes who run the @CRAFTroomies account. If you ever want a first-hand look at the life of a Big Ten basketball star, please give them a follow. With just a quick perusal of the account, you learn that he loves Lion King, *NSYNC, and tacos. And then there's this.
Happy Fourth of July. pic.twitter.com/bUeNGNeTGc— Craft's Roomies (@CRAFTroomies) July 4, 2013
Our forefathers couldn't be prouder.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. doesn't have the glamor and hype of Craft, but still is hugely important to Buckeye success this season. He's the definition of a glue guy. At only 6'4", he finished second on the team in rebounding with 4.8 a game. He also finished 11th in the B1G in 3-point percentage, shooting at a .374 clip. On the team, his role is to compliment Craft's pugnacious defense, and he does that quite well. He's always in the right place on the floor, ready to help Craft or anyone else with a trap. Thad Matta declared during media day that Smith needs to improve from behind the arc and with his turnovers. But Smith Jr.'s game isn't in need of a huge renovation. If he can knock down open jumpers and create the occasional easy bucket, he will be doing just fine.
Ohio State is lucky to have such a potent backup point guard in Shannon Scott. He broke out onto the B1G scene last year with his havoc-wreaking, Craftian defense. He joined Craft on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team, and averaged 1.7 steals per game in 20.9 minutes per game. That's quite the workload for a backup, and that will only increase this year. The Buckeyes may be forced to play a very small line-up, especially if their frontcourt gives them trouble. A lineup of Scott, Craft, and Smith Jr. will be furious on defense, and could create some matchup problems for slower teams. The problem is that he can't really shoot. He can use his athleticism to push the ball in transition, but his 62.7% from the foul line doesn't make that the best offensive strategy. But he protects the ball very well. He led the team with a 3.2 assist/turnover ratio, good for 9th in the country. So Buckeye fans should be very excited with this trio of guards.
But that's not all the bench has to offer. After a rough freshman campaign, Amedeo Della Valle returns to Columbus with a new confidence. He led the Italian U-20 team to a victory at the European Championships this summer, and was named tournament MVP. He put together quite the highlight reel throughout the tournament, and will provide a sweet stroke from outside off the bench.
Walk-on Andrew Goldstein spent the entire year last season on the bench due to NCAA transfer rules, and that probably won't change this season. But freshman Kam Williams could provide some excitement. A product of Baltimore, he has a smooth jumper and uses his athleticism for some highlight reel dunks. You can ask Brutus about it.
Slip-n-Slide, oop to Kam Williams over Brutus (via HealerStone)
He'll need to improve his strength, but his number probably won't be called too many times this season.
Biggest Question: Can They Score?
We know that this backcourt can defend like none other. But with Deshaun Thomas gone, Craft is going to have to step up offensively. We saw him make clutch shots by himself last year in the tournament, but he'll have to do that more consistently in the regular season. According to Craft, he returned to "square one" with his jumper this summer. And it's clear that Craft's 30% 3-point shooting effort from last year certainly has room for improvement. If he can shoot well with regularity, especially from the outside, the Buckeyes will thrive.
This backcourt will be unwavering in their defensive effort. We can guarantee that. But each member of the backcourt has to improve offensively, whether that's improving their jumper or eliminating turnovers. Luckily, they play in the Big Ten, where consistent offense is few and far between. Craft, Smith Jr., and Scott form one of the strongest and most experienced trio of guards in the country and should keep the Buckeyes at the top of the B1G this year.