Stats & Info: Aaron Craft

Key to OSU-MSU: Transition game

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
For the first time in series history, Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans will meet as top-5 opponents (9 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN).

The AP Poll isn't the only ranking with both teams in the top five.

When the Buckeyes and Spartans meet tonight, the key matchup could be in transition.

Michigan State's transition offense ranks third in the country with 24.3 points per game. Ohio State's transition defense allows just 7.4 points per game, fourth-fewest of any team.

Michigan State transition offense
The Spartans transition offense is led by Gary Harris (6.2 PPG) and Keith Appling (5.3 PPG), who lead the Big Ten in transition scoring.

Michigan State looks to push the ball quickly and often, whether it's off a missed shot, a made shot, or a turnover. The Spartans average 21.5 transition plays per game, the third-most in the country.

Much of their success in transition has to do with their ability to finish well around the basket. The Spartans are shooting 63 percent at the rim this season, eight-best among all teams.

Here's an example of a successful Michigan State transition play and how it transpired:

1. Against Kentucky, Branden Dawson grabbed a defensive rebound in the middle of the paint. Once Dawson secured the rebound, it's evident that all five Kentucky players were turned towards the ball with their eyes on Dawson, while Denzel Valentine was already leaking out in the open court.

2. Without dribbling, Dawson threw the ball ahead to Valentine for an outlet pass over the mid-court line. At the same time, three Michigan State players were spaced out while sprinting down the court with two Kentucky defenders behind them.

3. When Valentine caught the outlet pass, Aaron Harrison was the only Kentucky player back on defense.

4. Dawson -- who originally grabbed the rebound and threw the outlet pass -- beat four Kentucky players down the court, creating a 2-on-1 fast break for the Spartans. Valentine took just one dribble and threw an alley-oop to Dawson for an easy dunk. The entire play lasted less than four seconds.

Ohio State transition defense
Something will have to give in East Lansing tonight, because the Buckeyes transition defense has been just as dominant as the Spartans transition offense this season.

The Buckeyes limit their opponents to just 8.9 transition plays per game, the 14th-fewest of any team. Not only do they limit transition opportunities but they are efficient defending in transition as well. They hold their opponents to the 11th-fewest points per transition play. Teams are shooting just 43 percent against them on those plays.

Let's take a look at an example of an Ohio State defensive transition play that ended with a turnover:

1. After a defensive rebound by Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton, he passed the ball ahead to Demetrius Jackson near mid-court.

2. By the time Jackson caught the outlet pass, four Ohio State defenders were already ahead of the ball. As Jackson dribbled down the right side of the court, the four Ohio State defenders closest to Jackson all appeared to have their eyes on Jackson.

3. As Jackson attacked the basket, all five Ohio State defenders had at least one foot in the paint.

4. Aaron Craft forced Jackson to leave his feet under the basket, and Shannon Scott intercepted the pass.

The tempo of the game could play a large part in the outcome as Ohio State tries to limit Michigan State's easy points.

The Buckeyes transition defense is a large part why they rank second in the country in defensive efficiency and haven't allowed 70 points in any game this season.

Breaking down the Buckeyes lineup

March, 28, 2012

Elsa/Getty ImagesThad Matta and the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrate their first trip to the Final Four since 2007.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are back in the Final Four for the first time since losing to the Florida Gators in the 2007 championship game. ESPN Stats & Information takes a look at the keys to success for the Buckeyes in New Orleans.

Key Player
The key to the Buckeyes run to the Final Four has been sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas. Thomas scored a career-high 31 points in the Round of 64 win against Loyola-Maryland, and has averaged 21.7 points in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Thomas leads the tournament with 48 points in the paint and 28 second-chance points. Kansas has allowed six players to score 10 or more points in the paint during its last three games.

The All-American
When the Buckeyes traveled to Lawrence to take on Kansas in December, Jared Sullinger missed the game with back spasms. He’ll be in the lineup in the Final Four for a star-studded matchup with fellow All-American Thomas Robinson.

Sullinger leads the nation with 279 points on post-up plays this season while shooting 47 percent. If the Jayhawks can force him farther from the basket, the advantage shifts their way. Opponents are shooting 27 percent on jump shots guarded by Robinson, third-best among Big 12 players.

Sullinger has made 27 free throws in the tournament, the most for any player. After scoring 26 percent of his points from the line during the regular-season, he has scored 38 percent of his points from the line in the last four games.

While Sullinger is the All-American and Thomas has been the hot hand, it was a lesser-known Buckeye who came out of nowhere to help Ohio State win in the Elite Eight and advance to New Orleans.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored just 10 total points in Ohio State’s two games in Pittsburgh as the Buckeyes advanced to the Sweet 16. In the team’s games in Boston, he scored 17 points against Cincinnati and 18 against Syracuse while making three 3-pointers in each game.

The Gunner
Senior William Buford leads the team in shots and 3-point attempts this season. During the NCAA tournament, more than half of his shots have been contested by a defender and he has connected on less than 15 percent of those attempts.

As the competition has gotten tougher, more of Buford’s shots have been contested. In Ohio State’s first two games, only nine of 24 shots were contested. Against Cincinnati and Syracuse, 14 of his 20 shots were over a defender.

The Defensive Specialist
Aaron Craft leads the nation with 57 turnovers forced as an on-ball defender this season. No other player in the country forced more than 50.

When the teams met in December, Craft was able to shut down Tyshawn Taylor as a scorer. Taylor scored just 9 points in the game, one of four times this season he was held in single digits.

With Craft guarding him, Taylor had six turnovers and made just one of five shots. The Kansas senior did finish with a career-high 13 assists in the contest.
A recap of Thursday's action in the Men's Basketball Championship.

(4) Louisville 57, (1) Michigan St 44
Rick Pitino improves to 10-0 as a coach in the Sweet 16 -- the best mark of any coach in the history of the tournament -- and Tom Izzo loses to a Big East team in the Men's Basketball Championship for the first time in his career (5-1).

Michigan State's 44 points and 28.6 field goal percentage are both its worst in a Men's Basketball Championship game.

Gorgui Dieng blocked seven shots, tying both his career high and the school record for blocks in a Men's Basketball Championship game (Pervis Ellison, 1989), to help Louisville advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009 and the 12th time in school history.

Draymond Green leads the Spartans with 13 points and 16 rebounds in his final collegiate game.

(1) Syracuse 64, (4) Wisconsin 63
With their victory over Wisconsin, the Orange return to the Elite Eight for the first time since winning the national championship in 2003.

With his 48th tournament victory, Jim Boeheim passes John Wooden for fifth place all-time in tournament wins.

Wisconsin shot 14-for-27 from behind the arc but just 7-for-22 from inside. The 14 3-pointers are the second-most in a tournament game for the Badgers.

The last time Syracuse won a game by one point in the NCAA tournament was the Sweet 16 in 2003, when the Orange beat Auburn 79-78 and went on to win the national championship.

It’s just the fifth time a 1 seed won by just a single point in the Sweet 16.

Wisconsin tried to impose its will in this game, limiting Syracuse to just 52 possessions. That’s the fewest possessions for Syracuse in any game in the past 15 seasons. The previous low was 54, done twice (1999 versus Princeton and 2006 versus West Virginia, both wins).

(7) Florida 68, (3) Marquette 58
Florida reaches the Elite Eight for the fourth time in seven seasons behind one of the best defensive efforts in the shot-clock era.

The Gators have allowed just 153 points through three games in the tournament; only two teams since 1986 have allowed fewer in their first three tournament wins.

The Golden Eagles made 20 field goals, just one more than their season low, but are the first team to top 50 points against Florida in this year’s tournament.

(2) Ohio State 81, (6) Cincinnati 66
Aaron Craft led the defensive effort with six steals, an Ohio State record in a Men's Basketball Championship game. The loss matches Cincinnati's worst in the Sweet 16.

Deshaun Thomas leads all scorers with 26 points (20 in the first half) and adds seven rebounds as Ohio State beats Cincinnati in the Men's Basketball Championship for the first time in school history.

Thomas joins a great list of players in the past five seasons to average at least 25.0 points per game and reach the Elite Eight. The bad news for the Buckeyes is that none of the other three players reached the Final Four.
The ESPN College Basketball Power Index rates three of the four teams remaining in the East Region in the top 15 -- Syracuse at 2, Ohio State at 3 and Wisconsin at 13. Cincinnati, at 36, is the only team outside the top 15 nationally in BPI.

Here are some stats to get you ready for the East Regional Semifinals, which take place Thursday night.

(4) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (1) Syracuse Orange (Thursday, 7:15 ET)

Orange score off turnovers
Syracuse’s opponents have turned the ball over on 24.9 percent of their possessions this season, the highest for any major conference school and the eighth-highest in the nation.

The Orange score 20.3 points per game off turnovers, which also leads all schools in Power 6 conferences.

Turnovers may be harder to come by in the Sweet 16. Syracuse’s opponent, Wisconsin, turns the ball over on just 15.1 percent of its possessions, the second-lowest percentage in the nation.

Easy baskets fuel the Orange
Syracuse is averaging 34.6 points per game in the paint and is 32-0 when it scores at least 20 paint points. In both of Syracuse's losses this season, it was held below 20 points in the paint, 20 transition points and 20 points off turnovers.

The Orange have had only one other game this season, March 3 against Louisville, in which they failed to reach 20 points in at least one of the three categories.

Orange rotten outside the paint
Syracuse is in the Sweet 16 for the third time in the past four seasons. In their previous two trips, the Orange lost both games, shooting a combine 26.8 percent outside the paint.

In the Round of 32, Wisconsin held Vanderbilt to 29.6 percent shooting outside the paint in its win over the Commodores.

Syracuse was at its best in the Round of 32 with Dion Waiters on the court. The Orange outscored Kansas State 47-30 in the 24 minutes with Waiters on the floor, and scored all 12 of its transition points with Waiters in the game.

Badgers slow it down
Wisconsin averages 59.2 possessions per game this season, the fewest in the nation. In its first two games in the tournament, the Badgers averaged 57.0 possessions per game. Despite its slow pace Wisconsin is averaging 66.5 points per game, scoring 1.17 points per possession, the seventh-most among tournament teams.

Wisconsin is shooting 46.2 percent against zone defenses in its first two games, the fifth-best among tournament teams that have faced at least 10 possessions of zone defense; however, the Badgers were just 2-of-9 against Vanderbilt’s zone in the final six minutes of their third-round game.

(6) Cincinnati Bearcats vs. (2) Ohio State Buckeyes (Thursday 9:45 ET)

Ohio State has allowed 88.9 points per 100 possessions, the third-lowest in the nation.

Deshaun Thomas has scored 30 paint points during the tournament, tied for the most in the field. Thomas has scored 12 of the 30 after an offensive rebound, the most second-chance paint points by any player. Jared Sullinger is a different story. He’s shooting just 27.8 percent (5-18) in the paint.

Aaron Craft scored or assisted on 44 of the Buckeyes' 73 points (60.3 percent) in Ohio State's win against Gonzaga; that’s tied with Kendall Marshall for the most points from assists in a tournament game this season.

Cincinnati can close
The Bearcats have been tied or up by one point with four minutes remaining in its first two games of the 2012 Men’s Basketball Championship. From the four minute mark on, the Bearcats outscored Florida State by six points and Texas by five.

Cincinnati has held 19 straight opponents below 45 percent 3-point shooting and the Buckeyes have shot below 40 percent on 3-pointers in eight straight games.

Aaron Craft was 7-for-9 from the field, 5-for-5 in the paint on Saturday.
Guard play was the story of the early-afternoon games in the Men's Basketball Championship on Saturday. Here's a closer look at the wins by the Syracuse Orange and Ohio State Buckeyes, each of whom advanced to the Round of 16.

(1) Syracuse 75, (8) Kansas State 59

Syracuse’s win was the 47th in the Men’s Basketball Championship for head coach Jim Boeheim. That’s tied for the fifth-most all-time with John Wooden (who did all of his coaching before the tournament expanded to six rounds). Boeheim is two wins behind Jim Calhoun for fourth-most, 32 behind all-time leader Mike Krzyzewski.

The Syracuse bench dominated, going 10-for-15 from the field (including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers) and 10-for-11 from the free throw line. The Orange bench outscored Kansas State’s reserves, 33-0.

In particular, Syracuse was at its best with Dion Waiters on the floor. The Orange outscored Kansas State 47-30 in the 24 minutes in which he played, and tallied all 12 of their transition points with him in the game.

Scoop Jardine was also a catalyst. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and also had eight assists for the game, his most since February 8th.

During Jardine's career, Syracuse is 17-1 when he has at least eight assists.
Syracuse held Kansas State to just 18 percent shooting (6-of-33) outside the paint. That's the lowest percentage by a Syracuse opponent on those types of shots in the last three Men's Basketball Championships.

The Orange shot 67 percent in the second half, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

Kansas State was able to hang in with Syracuse for much of the game because of its offensive rebounding. Jordan Henriquez had 11 of the team’s 25 offensive rebounds, one shy of the tournament record set by Bo Kimble in 1990.

Looking ahead, the Orange have lost their last three games in the Round of 16 since winning the national championship in 2003.

(2) Ohio State 73, (7) Gonzaga 66

The Buckeyes are headed to the Round of 16 for the third straight season, the longest such streak since the Sweet 16 began in 1975.

Ohio State’s Aaron Craft finished with his first career double-double, recording 17 points and 10 assists. His seven baskets tied a career high. Craft was 5-for-5 in the paint and finished with a team-best 10 of the Buckeyes’ 24 paint points.

In two seasons, Craft never had more than nine assists in a regular-season game, but he's now had at least 10 assists in the Round of 32 twice. Last year against George Mason in the Men’s Basketball Championship Round of 32, Craft had 15 assists.

Ohio State made nine 3-pointers, with Craft assisting on seven of them.

The Buckeyes accounted for 27 of their 73 points (37 percent) on 3-pointers, their highest percentage of points from 3-pointers in a game this season. Entering Saturday, they ranked last in the Big Ten in percentage of points from 3-pointers (20 percent).

Rebounding was also a key. Gonzaga dominated the offensive glass in the first half, with nine offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points. The Buckeyes clamped down in the second half, limiting the Bulldogs to four offensive rebounds and two second-chance points.

Ohio State entered Saturday allowing opponents to grab only 25 percent of their missed shots, the best percentage in the Big Ten.

Stats in the Paint: Weekend outlook

February, 17, 2012
Let’s get you warmed up for the "College GameDay" road show (live on Saturday from Ann Arbor, Mich. at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN) by taking a look at some notes and nuggets from our college hoops advanced stats research team (a group we call the "Stats in the Paint" team).

(6) Ohio State at (19) Michigan, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN

When Ohio State has the ball: What defense will Michigan play? The Wolverines have played man-to-man on 87.7 percent of their opponents’ half-court possessions this season. Their zone defense has been effective though, limiting opponents to 34.6 percent shooting, compared to 42.3 percent versus their man defense.

In a 10-point win over Minnesota on Tuesday, Ohio State shot 59.1 percent and scored 1.13 points per play against man defense. When the Gophers played zone, the Buckeyes shot only 32.1 percent and scored 0.77 points per play.

When Michigan has the ball: Expect a stingy Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes are allowing 0.85 points per possessions this season, the lowest rate in the nation according to Sophomore guard Aaron Craft has been particularly suffocating; he leads the country with 49 turnovers forced as an on-ball defender this season.

Saturday’s Other Notable Matchups

(3) Missouri at Texas A&M, 2 p.m. ET on ESPN

Key stat: Missouri leads Division I with 1.20 points per possession this season, according to Texas A&M has scored a point per possession in four of 13 conference games, and the Aggies are 2-2 in those contests, compared to 2-7 in the rest of the conference slate.

Kansas State at (10) Baylor, 1:45 p.m. ET on ESPN3

Key stat: Kansas State leads the Big 12 in second-chance points per game (16.3) and offensive rebounds per game (15.2) this season. Baylor ranks seventh in the Big 12 in defensive rebounding, grabbing 67.3 percent of available boards.

Clemson at (7) North Carolina, 4 p.m. ET on ESPN

Key stat: Roy Williams’ vaunted transition offense is humming again. North Carolina is third in the country with 20.1 transition points per game this season. The last time the Tar Heels were top five in that category was 2008-09, when they won the national title.

(12) Florida at Arkansas, 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Key stats: Florida is most vulnerable in the paint. In two losses to Kentucky and Tennessee last week, the Gators allowed 38 and 36 points in the paint, their two highest totals in conference play this season. Arkansas will look to force turnovers, which the Razorbacks do on 24.1 percent of opponents’ possession, the highest rate in the SEC.

Defense sets tone for Buckeyes, Badgers

February, 3, 2012

Defense takes center stage on Saturday when the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers face off in Madison, Wis., (2 ET on ESPN) with first place in the Big Ten on the line.

The Buckeyes and Badgers rank first and second, respectively, in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to, and both rank among the top 25 teams nationally in field goal percentage allowed.

Points will certainly be at a premium: nine of the combined 45 opponents this season for Wisconsin and Ohio State have scored better than the national average of one point per possession.

When Ohio State Has the Ball
Jared Sullinger is one of the most dominant big men in the country. Nearly half of his possessions result in a post-up play, and he has the second-best points per play average when posting up in the Big Ten (minimum 25 plays).

However, he had one of his worst games in the post Sunday against Michigan, a team that started four guards and no player taller than 6 feet, 8 inches. Sullinger made just 1-of-5 shots and scored only four points on seven post-up plays in the Buckeyes' 15-point win.

Sullinger will be challenged to bounce back when he faces a physical Wisconsin frontcourt led by Jared Berggren, who has flourished as the team's defensive stopper in the paint. He’s allowed 0.58 points per play as an on-ball defender, the best rate among Big Ten players at least 6 feet 10 inches tall (minimum 100 minutes played).

He ranks fourth in block percentage in the Big Ten, and opponents are averaging less than half a point per play on 21 percent shooting when posting up against Berggren. Cody Zeller and Tyler Zeller, arguably two of the best centers in the nation, were a combined 1-for-6 in their matchups with Berggren.

When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Jordan Taylor got off to a slow start this season, averaging just 12 points per game during the Badgers’ non-conference slate. In conference play, Jordan has increased his scoring by nearly five points per game.

Taylor’s much-improved play in isolation has fueled this recent surge. He’s averaged one point per play or better in isolation in six of his 10 conference games, after doing so in just five of 13 non-conference games.

Taylor will face one of the toughest on-ball perimeter defenders in the league with Aaron Craft likely to match up against the Badgers' senior point guard. Craft has the highest steal percentage in the Big Ten, and has allowed his opponent to score 0.67 points per play this season.

Craft’s aggressive play defending in isolation has created turnovers on nearly one of every three such plays. His ball-hawking tactics might not be enough to contain Taylor, however, who has turned the ball over at a rate of fewer than once every 17 isolation plays this season.

Ohio State Crafts Rout of Duke

November, 30, 2011
Two heavy hitters squared off Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge as second-ranked Ohio State hosted fourth-ranked Duke.

Ohio State burst out of the gate with an 11-0 run and although Duke rallied early, the Buckeyes rolled to a 22-point rout over the Blue Devils. The victory gave Ohio State its 29th-straight home win, which is the fourth-longest active streak in Division I.

Jared Sullinger, who is one of five players in D-I averaging at least 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, led four Buckeyes in scoring with 21 points. Sullinger did most of his damage near the rim as het got 12 touches in the lane and went 6-9 with 12 points on possessions in that location.

Sullinger had 14 touches outside the lane and went 2-5 with eight points, as the Blue Devils had more success defending him away from the basket.

Aaron Craft chipped in 17 points and eight assists, but it was his defense that helped shut down Duke. Led by Craft, Ohio State held Duke to season lows in points and three-point field goals and did so by controlling the Blue Devils in the halfcourt.

Duke guards combined to score four points on 2-8 shooting when being defended by Craft with four turnovers. Entering the game, Craft had allowed opponents to shoot 25 percent from the floor as an on-ball defender this season, best in the Big Ten.

Entering this game Duke had won 35 consecutive games in the month of November, but the 22-point loss is Duke's worst in a regular season non-conference game since February 26, 1995, when they lost 100-77 to UCLA. It is also the Blue Devils’ second-worst loss ever against a current member of the Big Ten.

Austin Rivers scored a career-high 22 points in defeat. He and Mason Plumlee were the only two consistent offensive contributors as they combined for 38 points while the rest of the starters combined to score just seven and did not attempt a free throw.

Ryan Kelly who entered averaging 14.6 PPG and Andre Dawkins (10.1) were each held scoreless.

Duke’s next game is Wednesday versus Colorado State while Ohio State takes on Texas-Pan American on Saturday.