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Aaron Craft ready to play more of an attacking role

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UNION, N.J. — The knock on Ohio State for much of the 2012-2013 season was that they relied far too much on Deshaun Thomas on the offensive end of the floor. They didn’t have a second option, and on the nights when Thomas wasn’t hitting his shots, the Buckeyes weren’t winning games.

That changed down the stretch of the season, however.

Ohio State won their last five regular season games before taking home the Big Ten tournament title and coming within a game of making the Final Four, a feat that no one thought possible last January. The reason for that surge? The play of point guard Aaron Craft, who became a much more aggressive player on the offensive end of the floor over the last month-and-a-half of the season. He had 21 points and six assists in a regular season win over Michigan State. He went for 15 points, four assists and four steals in a win over Indiana. He had 20 points, nine assists and four steals against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. He went for 18 points and six assists — including the game-saving charge and game-winning three — in a win over Iowa State to reach the Sweet 16.

And if the Buckeyes are going to make a run at a Big Ten regular season title in 2013-2014, they are going to need that kind of play out of Craft the entire season.

“I’ve gotta continue to lead the team, the biggest thing [to improve on] would be being aggressive on offense,” Craft told NBCSports.com at the Nike Skills Academy on the campus of Kean University. “Without having a guy like DT where you can throw him the ball and let him do his thing. We’re going to have to find a way to create shots and get open ones, so if I can attack better, I think it will help us out.”

And therein lies the biggest question mark when it comes to the Buckeyes next season. As good as Craft is, his entire career at Ohio State has been built around his leadership and his defense. He’s not a dynamic playmaker, he’s a facilitator. He picks his spots well and he’s aggressive when he needs to be, but he hasn’t been the kind of point guard that can beat his man one-on-one and create a shot for himself or his team on any possession. He’s not Trey Burke.

But there were times where he was as effective as Burke was last season, especially late in the regular season, and it’s those moments that Craft will be looking to build off of.

“Guys like Kyrie [Irving] are always in attack mode,” Craft said. “It’s not always for him to score, it’s for everybody. It’s for his entire team, whether he’s getting a good shot or he’s helping somebody else get a good shot. Just trying to be aggressive and be in attack mode, not trying to go to fast but to make quick decisions. We can make adjustments from there.”

The good news is that there will be some talent surrounding Craft next season. Shannon Scott showed flashes of serious potential as a sophomore. Lenzelle Smith has some big scoring games. LaQuinton Ross played his way into some 2014 mock drafts with his play in the postseason.

None of those guys have shown any kind of consistency, however.

Craft has.

Which is ironic, really.

While Scott, Ross and Smith will be looking to improve their consistency next year, Craft, who has built a career out of consistently playing at a high level, will be looking to break out of his mold.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Dennis Smith Jr. takes flight

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While Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz and the Kentucky stars are the freshmen getting all the publicity, Dennis Smith Jr. of N.C. State is quietly sitting as a potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Why?

Because’s he’s a point guard that can do things like this:

Manu Lecomte’s 24 points leads No. 9 Baylor past No. 7 Xavier

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears shoots a free throw against the Texas Longhorns during the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Manu Lecomte finished with 24 points, hitting six threes and dishing out five assists as No. 9 Baylor added to what is unquestionably the best résumé in college basketball on Saturday with a 73-58 win over No. 7 Xavier in Waco.

The Bears have already beaten Louisville, VCU, Michigan State and Oregon this season, so it’s not like we needed anymore confirmation that the Bears were good this year.

But we got it.

Johnathon Motley finished with 17 points and eight boards and Jo Lual-Acuil chipped in with 12 points and six blocks, but it was Lecomte that was the star here. Entering the season, the question everyone had with this Baylor team was whether or not they had enough outside shooting and enough point guard, and it just so happens that Lecomte checks both those boxes.

And frankly, I don’t think anyone knew just how good Lecomte was going to be this season.

The Baylor coaching staff did. Word out of Waco during the preseason was that Lecomte looked great, that his redshirt season did wonders for him as a player, but then again, you hear that about every kid that’s ever sat out a season. With Lecomte, it turned out to be true. And on Saturday, we saw him at his best.

It’s also worth noting here just how important these non-conference wins will be not just for the Bears, but for the Big 12 as a whole. If Baylor can somehow find a way to win the Big 12 regular season title – or maybe even if they finish second in the league and win the Big 12 tournament – they’ll be in a great spot to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament. A No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question.

That’s great for the conference as a whole. These wins will significantly help the computer numbers for the league, and it also means that there are going to be more quality wins available for the other teams in the conference during league play.

Put another way, bubble teams won’t have to simply rely on trying to steal a win against Kansas at home if they need to inject some life into their at-large profile in February.

The most impressive part?

Baylor has done all of this despite not getting a single vote in the Preseason AP top 25 poll.

Jaysom Tatum to play tonight for Duke

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
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Duke announced on Saturday afternoon that Jayson Tatum will return to action against Maine.

Tatum is a top five prospect and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He has been out since late October with a foot injury.

Grayson Allen and Frank Jackson are not expected to play. Allen has been battling a toe injury that has limited his explosiveness this season.

Marques Bolden is expected to return to the lineup soon, and on the pregame show, head coach Mike Krzyzewski said there’s a chance he could play tonight. He’s been out with a lower leg injury.

No. 15 Purdue uses 3-pointers to beat Morehead State 90-56

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - NOVEMBER 14: Caleb Swanigan #50 of the Purdue Boilermakers celebrates during the game against the Villanova Wildcats at Mackey Arena on November 14, 2016 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Freshman guard Carsen Edwards scored 16 points, and No. 15 Purdue made 11 3-pointers in the first half Saturday on the way to a 90-56 victory over Morehead State.

The Boilermakers (6-2), coming off a Wednesday loss at No. 14 Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, used a 15-0 first-half run to stretch a 10-9 lead to 25-9, and Purdue continued to pull away.

Dakota Mathias added 14 points, and Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson had 13 each for Purdue.

Miguel Dicent had 11 points for Morehead State (2-5), which played without coach Sean Woods, who has been suspended with pay since Nov. 22, when the university launched an official investigation into Woods’ treatment of players.

Purdue made 11 of 20 from 3-point range during the first half when it built a 47-25 lead. Carsen Edwards, who made his first start in place of slumping Vince Edwards, and Mathias made four 3-pointers each in the first half.

The Boilermakers played without fifth-year graduate student transfer point guard Spike Albrecht, who suffered a back injury this week.

BIG PICTURE

Morehead State: With Woods suspended indefinitely, the Eagles are a distracted basketball team, and it shows as their losing streak reached five on Saturday, including 0-3 for acting coach Preston Spradlin.

Purdue: It’s a byproduct of opposing defenses centering their attention on Boilermaker big men Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but Purdue entered this game leading the Big Ten in 3-point field goal shooting percentage at 41.8 and made 55 percent from beyond the arc during the opening half on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Morehead State: The Eagles do not play until going to Lipscomb on Dec. 10.

Purdue: The Boilermakers travel to New York City for a Tuesday night game against Arizona State in the Jimmy V. Classic.

 

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Big road wins for UCLA, West Virginia

MADISON, WI - DECEMBER 03:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is defended by Kristian Doolittle #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on December 3, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 11 UCLA 97, No. 1 Kentucky 92

This one was a ton of fun to watch as UCLA shook off a sluggish start to run past Kentucky at Rupp Arena. CBT’s Rob Dauster has the story on this one and why it was important for both teams.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 25 West Virginia 66, No. 6 Virginia 57: Bob Huggins’ group has a potential signature victory as West Virginia won a big one on the road. I have more about why this one is particularly important for West Virginia here.

No. 9 Baylor 76, No. 7 Xavier 61: The Bears added to what is the best résumé in college basketball with an impressive win over a very good Xavier team. Manu Lecomte was the star of the show, finishing with 24 points and five assists. We went in depth on this game here.

STARRED

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: After just missing a triple-double in a big win over Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge earlier this week, Hayes dominated in a 90-70 win over Oklahoma with 28 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Hayes made both of his three-point attempts and also added six assists and two rebounds. Hayes is playing like an All-American lately.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Speaking of All-American caliber play, the senior guard put up a triple-double in the Wildcats’ 88-57 win over Saint Joseph’s as he finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Hart was 6-for-10 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point territory as he had a tremendous outing.

Sebastian Saez, Ole Miss: Underrated nationally, the senior forward had his fourth double-double of the year with 20 points and 16 rebounds in a win over Memphis. Saez also added three blocks as he now has 12 or more rebounds in five games this season.

Anthony Livingston, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders needed three free throws from Livingston with under three seconds left for a one-point win over Rice as Livingston finished with 33 points and seven rebounds.

Collin Smith, George Washington: Also knocking in a huge go-ahead bucket was Smith as his three-pointer with three seconds left gave the Colonials a win over USF. Smith ended up with 22 points and eight rebounds.

STRUGGLED

E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews finished 3-for-13 from the floor with just nine points as No. 21 Rhode Island lost their second straight game, this time falling to Providence, 63-60, on the road.

JeQuan Lewis, VCU: Lewis had 23 points and 11 assists in a come-from-behind win over Princeton during the week, but he had just three points and one assists – and turned an ankle – in a 64-46 loss to Illinois in Miami on Saturday.

San Diego State: The Aztecs took a 65-59 loss to Loyola (IL) on Saturday, a loss that puts SDSU is an all-too-familiar hole: Bad losses on their résumé that they won’t be able to make up for in league play.

TOP 25

  • Using a balanced scoring effort, No. 15 Purdue picked up an easy home win over Morehead State. Freshman guard Carsen Edwards knocked down four triples to finish with a team-high 16 points while Caleb Swanigan and P.J. Thompson both finished with 13 points and six assists.
  • Kelan Martin went for 30 points as No. 18 Butler knocked off Central Arkansas, 82-58.
  • Andrew White hit seven threes and finished with 26 points while Franklin Howard chipped in with 13 assists for No. 22 Syracuse as they held on to beat North Florida, 77-71, in the Carrier Dome.

NOTABLE

  • Solid win for Wake Forest on the road at Richmond as John Collins had 16 points, 13 rebounds.