Ohio State junior point guard Aaron Craft was referred to as the best defender in college basketball enough times to make what would have typically been considered an overwhelming compliment feel rather ordinary.
Though those compliments were often thrown in postgame press conferences by opposing coaches in the Big Ten, those same coaches selected Indiana’s Victor Oladipo as the conference’s defensive player of the year on Monday evening.
OSU head coach Thad Matta, though admittedly biased, said that he was “shocked” when Craft wasn’t given the award.
“I think Victor Oladipo is a tremendous, outstanding, awesome defender, one of the best I’ve ever seen," Matta said, “but Aaron Craft is in a whole other world when it comes to defense, and this basketball team would not be anywhere near where it is today without the impact he makes on the defensive end.
“I’m not taking anything away from Oladipo. I think the guy is awesome, but Aaron doesn’t fly through the air and pin shots on the glass – He takes them from the guy’s hands when he’s on the floor. How many five-second counts has Aaron Craft earned this year by himself, man-on-man, with 80 feet to get away from him and they can’t?”
Oladipo led the Big Ten with 2.2 steals (69 total) per game, and was regularly used at Indiana’s answer for the opposing team’s best offensive player. Conversely, Craft averaged 2.0 steals per game (60) on his way to becoming OSU’s all-time thefts leader.
But defense wasn’t all that Oladipo brought to the table, averaging 13.7 points per game while leading the Hoosiers to their first outright Big Ten title since 1993. Oladipo was also considered by most as Michigan point guard Trey Burke’s biggest competition for the Big Ten Player of the Year award.
Craft, meanwhile, was named alongside Oladipo on the Big Ten’s all-defensive team, but Matta said the OSU junior was snubbed just like former Buckeyes defender David Lighty, who was never named the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
“Aaron Craft should be the national defender of the year,” Matta said. “I don’t even care about the Big Ten – he should be the national defender of the year. And I said the same thing about David Lighty. Maybe I’m biased, but I know you coaches had to game plan for him. As an opposing team, you have to be aware of where he is when you’re running your offense.
“I’ve been in this league nine years, and I’ve never seen a kid make an impact on a basketball team like he does on the defensive end. Victor Oladipo is off the charts, but I just think Aaron’s the best.”
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