Aaron Craft, Keith Appling

Aaron Craft’s offensive explosion keys Ohio State win over MSU

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No. 18 Ohio State entered this week with plenty of question marks, but after running over Minnesota on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes knocked off No. 4 Michigan State at home on Sunday afternoon, 68-60.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Buckeyes look like they’re once again in the hunt for a top four seed in the NCAA tournament.

That’s what happens when you’ve notched wins over two of the top ten teams in the country and can claim four wins over the RPI top 25.

Yes, I know the Buckeyes have just a 4-7 record against the top 50, but when you take a closer look at those losses, there’s really not all that much to be ashamed of. They lost to Indiana and Kansas at home. They lost at Duke, at Michigan and at Michigan State. Their worst loss of the season? On the road against Wisconsin or on the road against Illinois. How many teams can boast a resume like that?

But there’s more to Sunday’s win than a simple resume-booster.

Ohio State earned this win despite what was more-or-less a no-show performance from Deshaun Thomas. Yes, he finished with 14 points, but that came on 4-16 shooting. He hit a couple of shots in Ohio State’s game-changing, 26-7 run at the start of the second half, but that run — and Ohio State’s entire second half turnaround — was keyed by Aaron Craft. The all-american point guard not only finished with 21 points (a career-high and more than he scored in the last three games combined) and six assists, he forced Michigan State point guard Keith Appling into yet another horrendous offensive performance.

He was tremendous on both ends.

But the real takeaway here is that Ohio State not only picked up one of their most important wins of the season, they did so in a game in which their leading scorer never got on track offensively. The knock on the Buckeyes all season long as been their reliance on Thomas as an offensive option, and while guys like LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith and Shannon Scott have had big games, the consistency of the supporting cast simply has not been there this year.

Trying to survive without Thomas playing well is not a smart move for Thad Matta’s club, but it has to be comforting for Ohio State to know that they can compete with anyone in the country — at least on their home floor — on nights when Thomas is off.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.