CHICAGO — Ohio State coach Thad Matta said he pays little attention to individual honors. But one recent awards vote by the Big Ten’s coaches left him “shocked” and “amazed.”
Indiana’s Victor Oladipo over Aaron Craft for league defensive player of the year?
Though admittedly biased, Matta said the Buckeyes’ junior guard should be the runaway choice for best defender in the nation — let alone his own league. In any case, it will make a lush storyline if OSU and the conference champion Hoosiers meet in the Big Ten tournament finals Sunday.
“Victor Oladipo is a tremendous, outstanding, awesome defender,” Matta said. “One of the best I’ve ever seen. But Aaron Craft is in a whole ’nother world when it comes to defense. This basketball team would not be anywhere near where it is without the impact he makes on the defensive end.
“I’m not taking anything away from Oladipo. Hey, I think the guy is awesome, but Aaron doesn’t fly through the air and pin shots off the glass. He takes them from the guys’ hands when he’s on the floor. How many five-second counts has Aaron gotten by himself man on man with 80 feet for a player to get away from him, and they can’t?”
Matta added: “I’ve been in this league for nine years and I’ve never seen a guy make a imapct on the basketball game like he does on the defensive end.”
For his part, Craft, who captured the league’s highest defensive honor last season, had already moved on. The Findlay native was looking to advance in ESPN Grantland.com’s tongue-in-cheek bracket of the most hated college basketball players of the past 30 years — an ode to Craft that Matta called the “ultimate compliment.”
“I do know I have a higher seed in that tournament than Greg Paulus,” Craft said of the Buckeyes’ video coordinator, a former Duke point guard. “I just like to make sure I let him know I continue to beat him at various things.”
Craft, an Academic All-American, said he understands the ribbing he receives at opposing venues.
“I wasn’t the fondest of Gregory when he played,” he said. “So I'm assuming it’s probably very similar to what’s going on with me. Greg's one of nicest guys I know. But I didn’t know him. I just chose not to like him very much.”
Alas, Craft, a No. 7 seed, could not pull off the first-round upset of second-seeded former Florida star Joakim Noah.
OVERACHIEVERS: As Nebraska coach Tim Miles said, “We were picked last in this league by everybody but my mom. So at least we outperformed that.”
The Cornhuskers (15-17) finished 10th in the league and earned a quarterfinals meeting against second-seeded Ohio State today with a 57-55 win over Purdue on Thursday. OSU won both regular-season meetings, though Miles made sure to note the Buckeyes’ 73-66 win last month in Lincoln was a five-point game in the final minutes.
“You stole my postgame talk,” he said. “That was a game down the stretch and we were right there. A few other things go our way, and we could have come out on top. That’s what you have to build your case on.”