FORT WAYNE – Two of the Big Ten’s better defenders will be on display today when No. 1 Indiana (20-3, 8-2), which is trying to rebound from Thursday’s 74-72 loss at Illinois, travels to play No. 10 Ohio State (17-5, 7-3) at 1 p.m. today.
Victor Oladipo, a 6-foot-5 junior guard, leads a Hoosiers defense that is giving up 61.6 points per game, and Aaron Craft, a 6-2 junior guard, leads a Buckeyes defense that gives up 58.1 points per game.
The two defensive stoppers are the envy of conference coaches.
I’d like to have both of those guys, because I think they do some things defensively that affect the game, and very few people affect the game without scoring, Purdue coach Matt Painter said. Both of those guys bring positive qualities to the table even when they don’t score the basketball.
Painter got a close look at what Oladipo and Craft can do this season. In Purdue’s 97-60 loss to Indiana on Jan. 30, Oladipo had three steals and block. In Purdue’s 74-64 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 8, Craft had a steal and a block.
The guards are first and third in steals in the Big Ten with Oladipo leading the way with 2.3 per game. Craft averages two steals. In conference games only, Craft has the edge with 2.4 steals per game, and Oladipo is second with 2.1.
I think defensively how they recover from mistakes is incredible, the speed that they can recover, said Michigan coach John Beilein, who watched Craft grab three steals in the Wolverines’ 76-74 overtime win over the Buckeyes on Tuesday and Oladipo get two steals in the Hoosiers’ 81-73 win over Michigan on Feb. 2.
If you move one of them one way or they get screened one way, the both of them are able to really guard two actions and still stay in front of you.
The juniors’ contributions are not limited to defense.
Oladipo is Indiana’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.8 points behind Cody Zeller’s 16.2 per game. Oladipo also averages 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Craft is Ohio State’s third-leading scorer, averaging 9.3 points behind former Bishop Luers standout Deshaun Thomas’ Big Ten-leading 19.9 points per game and Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s 10.5 points per game. Craft also averages 4.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds.
While both are top players in the Big Ten, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he gives Oladipo the edge because of the IU guard’s versatility.
I think the job Victor Oladipo has done this year both offensively, defensively, rebounding, the whole thing is unbelievable, Izzo said. I think he’s got the best motor in college basketball that makes up for a lot of things. Craft is awfully good at what he does. It’s just that I think Oladipo can cover anywhere from a point guard to a four-man.
Both guys are class guys that seem to play hard in everything. You always pull for either one of them.