I say this without a shred of exaggeration: Tyshawn Taylor going up against Aaron Craft will be the single most intriguing matchup of the entire Final Four.
We all know about Craft’s ability on the defensive end of the floor. He may very well be the best on-ball defender in the country. He has quick feet, he understands angles and leverage, and if you give him a chance to swipe at the ball, odds are pretty good he’ll be getting a hand on it. As one coach told CBSSports.com, “whoever Craft is guarding, go away from them.”
Craft will be guarding Taylor, and Taylor is an incredibly important part of what Kansas wants to do offensively. He’s the playmaker. He’s the guy who has the ball in his hands at the end of a clock. He’s he one that sets up the alley-oops that Withey finishes and gets Conner Teahan open looks from three. Limit Taylor, and you stunt the Jayhawk’s offensive attack.
Throughout his career, Taylor has developed a reputation for the extreme. One minute, he’s breaking ankles and banging threes. The next minute, he’s throwing a pass that had no chance of being completed or dribbling the ball off of his foot. There’s a reason that Kansas fans have had a love-hate relationship with Taylor during his four seasons in Lawrence.
Defensively, Craft thrives on the ability to take the player he is guarding out of their comfort zone. And when Taylor gets out of his comfort zone, he isn’t just turning the ball over, he’s taking bad shots early in the shot clock.* Bad shots early in the shot clock are just as detrimental as turnovers, which is why Taylor’s turnover rate (6.2%, less than Peyton Siva’s 6.5%, while posting a 27.5% usage rate) doesn’t paint the entire picture when it comes to his questionable decision-making.
*(It’s probably worth noting here that the first time these two teams plays, Taylor handed out 13 assists while shooting 3-for-9 from the floor and turning the ball over seven times.)
Taylor is a senior. For two months at the end of the regular season, he played like a senior, which is why there was a strong enough late in the year to get Taylor retroactively named a Cousy Award finalist. But during the tournament, Taylor had regressed to his early season form before a 22-point, six-assist, five-rebound, five-steal performance against North Carolina.
Will Craft bring out the worst in Taylor?