Craft Embracing Challenge Of Rule Change

After just one scrimmage, both Ohio State coaches and players are well aware of the impact that new hand-checking rules could have on college basketball. Already labeled as one of the game's top defenders, Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft isn't worried about losing any of his effectiveness, as both he and his coach believe that his fundamentals will shine through.

On the official Iowa State team poster for the upcoming season, Cylcones forward Melvin Ejim is featured getting the better of a blocking call that is eerily similar to the controversial charge that Ohio State guard Aaron Craft drew in the Buckeyes' NCAA Tournament win over ISU last March.

Always astute, Craft took notice of the Cyclones' subtle jab.

"Oh yeah, I saw that," Craft said at Big Ten media day in Chicago. "They're holding a grudge, aren't they?"

But while there was a smile on Craft's face during that particular answer, there was also a twinge of annoyance in some of the ones that followed.

Having already developed a reputation as one of college basketball's top defenders, the effectiveness of the Ohio State senior was repeatedly questioned throughout his conference's media day as reporters outwardly wondered whether or not he'd be able to lock down opponents with a nationwide hand-checking rule in place. As opposed to past years and much like in the NBA, using one's hand to defend another player is now prohibited in college basketball, a rule that could potentially hinder a defender as physical as Craft.

For what it's worth, Craft isn't too concerned by the rule change, which he feels will separate the defensive ‘haves' from the ‘have nots.'

"I think we use our feet a lot more than people anticipate or give us credit for," Craft said. "Honestly, it's not that big of a deal, because bad defenders usually aren't in front of their opponent, so bad defenders have to use their arms and hands to get in front of their guy."

Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta agreed with his star player's sentiment, stating that it's Craft's fundamentals more than his physicality that have made him a three-time All-Big Ten defender.

"He's got the ability laterally to really move.  He's got great lower body strength," Matta said of Craft. "I don't really see that being an issue for him in terms of he's not a guy that grabs and holds, because he's always there with his feet.  So I think he should be in pretty good shape."

But while Craft appears to be in good shape heading into the 2013-14 season, it's clear that others may struggle with college basketball's latest significant rule change. In fact, Craft said that he didn't truly notice any effects from the hand check ban until the Buckeyes played West Virginia in an officiated scrimmage last weekend.

"Our practices were fine, they didn't call them any different. We got in our scrimmage and they called it how they were eventually going to call it," Craft said. "It was double the fouls that we were seeing. Quadruple the free throws in the bonus. It's a mind game now."

The 6-2, 195-pound guard admitted that there could be an adjustment period for he and his teammates throughout the better part of OSU's out-of-conference schedule. Matta agreed with that notion, stating that it was still too early for him to make a decision regarding whether or not the new rule is an effective one.

The 10th-year Buckeyes headman noted that his team's scrimmage against the Mountaineers could have been an outlier, or a sign that he needs to overhaul his approach to certain aspects of game-planning with the hand check ban in place.

"We've got about a two-to-three-week window where we have to look at this and analyze," Matta said. "It may be subtle changes, it may be big changes that we have to make just in terms of both offensively and defensively to adjust."

As for Craft, perhaps some of his annoyance came from not just a questioning of his skill set, but a realization that the charge that he drew against the Cyclones won't be the last controversial call that he'll be a part of. Trying to put a positive spin on things, Craft did his best to embrace college basketball's evolution, because while there's nothing that he can do to stop it, he still feels as though he's plenty capable of stifling opponents.

"I'm excited for the challenge," he said. "It is what it is. As a team, we've had to adjust. Early it'll be tough, but we'll have to figure it out."

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