Monday Skull Session

By Jason Priestas on March 25, 2013 at 6:00 am

Good morning, citizens of Craftopia.

You're sitting there, unable to breathe after watching your team squander what seemed to be a safe, 13-point lead with six on the clock. Aaron Craft, the island of stability on a team still very much learning to play well together, is struggling mightily.

During Iowa State's run to storm back for a 75-74 lead, Craft has a foul, two uncharacteristic turnovers and has missed the front end of two one-and-ones. Panic. 

Then Craft turns to what got him there – defense. In a brilliant play to get position under Cyclone Melvin Ejim, Craft set his feet on the outer edge of the charge circle, carefully raising his right heel to draw a charge on Ejim, negating a potential three-point play.

Craft would go on to make one of his two free throws to tie the game and Ejim would turn the ball over again – on a steal to Sam Thompson – on Iowa State's next possession.

Another Craft miss was covered when Ohio State was awarded a loose ball out of bounds with 29.9 seconds remaining. Playing for the last shot, Craft dribbled down to four seconds, waved an incredulous Deshaun Thomas off, and then buried a bomb for the ages.

Go ahead and watch it again. I'll wait. Oh, and grab some GIFs while you're at it.

Craft's three coming with just .5 seconds remaining on the clock would ice the game for the Buckeyes (for good measure, Craft blocked a Korie Lucious three-quarter court desperation heave) and Ohio's favorite rosy-cheeked assassin became legend.

Here's Twitter's reaction to the shot at the end of the game, courtesy of the NCAA:

Twitter's reaction to Aaron Craft's shot, courtesy of the NCAA

One game after tying a Big Ten record for steals in an NCAA Tournament game with 6, Craft's offense, which is a relatively new thing, carried the day for the Buckeyes.

But, this team is a defense-first unit and defense is what ultimately won the game. Iowa State connected on 12 three-pointers, outrebounded Ohio State 12-2 on the offensive glass, and wins that game against nearly every other team in the tournament.

The Buckeyes countered Iowa State's shooting and rebounding with tenacious defense, forcing 16 Cyclone turnovers on the day. The late charge Craft was able to draw against Ejim was emblematic of this team's performance for much of this season and certainly all of its current 10-game winning streak.

The play would prove controversial with Charles Barkley and CBS leading a chorus of "CRAFT IS A TRY HARD" that eventually led to a statement from John Adams, NCAA National Coordinator of Men's Basketball Officiating, essentially saying the play was not reviewable. On camera, Adams defended the spur of the moment call as being an "incredibly hard play."

That's fair. If the defender's foot is hovering over the edge of the circle, technically, he has not established position. But is this really a bad call?

Craft's conroversial play. Allegedly.

Had his foot been in the circle, yes, that's a bad call. But without the benefit of replay in this situation, you have to cut referees some slack. It wasn't like the rest of the game was perfectly officiated.

The win is in the books and the team is now bound for OHLA, Thad Matta's fourth-straight Sweet 16 appearance – a feat no other school can claim.

As for Craft, he left interviews to go study for his Organic Chemistry test. Oh, and don't look now, but with 31 career steals in NCAA Tournament games, the Robber Aaron is three swipes out of 5th place on the NCAA's all-time list. With at least one more game this season and a couple of more likely next year, Grant Hill's 39 career steals are in jeopardy.

After the game Sunday, Thad Matta said, "I hope that one day they put a statue of him in front of our building."

We do, too, Coach.

HELLO, MR. MILLER. Next up for Ohio State is a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 6 Arizona Thursday night in Los Angeles. The game will tip at 7:47 p.m. on TBS and the Buckeyes have opened as 4-point favorites.

The Wildcats beat No. 11 Belmont, 81-64, in the round of 64 and then took advantage of Harvard's upset of No. 3 New Mexico, by easing their way into the game.

As you probably know, Matta and Arizona coach Sean Miller have quite the history. They were roommates as assistant coaches at Miami of Ohio in the mid-90s, and then when Matta got the Xavier gig, he brought Miller along. Matta left Xavier for Ohio State and Miller took over with each coach going on his merry way until meeting in the 2007 tournament. You may remember that game. Expect to see plenty of Ron Lewis highlights this week.

Many think Arizona was the best team on the West Coast and they rebound extremely well. Guard Mark Lyons, with 50 points in two games, leads the tournament in scoring. It will be another battle.

 STIEBER REPEATER. Redshirt sophomore Logan Stieber defended his 133-pound title in Des Moines Saturday, capturing a second NCAA championship. Stieber completed a 27-0 season with a 7-4 win over Iowa's Tony Ramos to move his career mark against his chief rival to 5-0 (2-0 in 2013).

After opening the match with a takedown, Stieber would pick up another two points in the first period to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the second period before trading points the rest of the way.

In his four matches leading up to the championship, Stieber recorded two pins and two technical falls (essentially wrestling's run rule when the score differential reaches 15). It's little wonder he's regarded as the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the nation.

Stieber's younger brother, Hunter, the top seed at 141, finished 3rd following a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to Edinboro's Mitchell Port in the semifinals and redshirt junior Nick Heflin captured 5th at 174. Ohio State finished 6th as a team.

DUNK CITY, USA. I'll admit it. I have Dunk City Fever.

To think that a small, 22-year-old college in Fort Myers – best known to Ohioans as the place you went once to drink terrible beer on spring break – would become the first 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet 16 is one thing. To make that run in the school's sixth season of Division I play is another thing. To witness their reckless assault on tournament rims has been something else, altogether.

America was introduced to Dunk City by way of their 78-68 win over two-seed Georgetown Friday night. Here's the tweet volume for the game – the spikes are a series of ridiculous second half dunks that you may have missed while watching the Buckeyes paste Iona:

Dunk City's tweet volume from the win over Georgetown

Then the school's official Twitter account struck gold:

The next thing you know, official videos are being cutFlorida Gulf Coast beer koozies are selling out, and basketball managers are inventing dance moves. Dunk City Fever is real.

Do yourself a favor and watch this video Deadspin put together of every Florida Gulf Coast postseason dunk. The Georgetown clownshow starts at the 1:12 mark.

EXIT MARSHALL HENDERSON. Walking disturbance of the peace Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss were bounced by 13th-seeded La Salle last night in Kansas City, so Henderson did the only appropriate thing and gave the crowd a gift:

And why did Henderson fly the double birds?

That's a sore subject for Marshall.

Henderson is a lightning rod and you're perfectly within your rights not to like the guy, but villains are good for college basketball. Especially villains that embrace their villainy.

ETC. Nate Silver now has Ohio State at 40.4% odds to reach the Final Four, 6.8% to cut down the nets... Ben Howland is out at UCLA... More like John Thompson V, amirite... Lady Gophers hockey team finishes season 41-0... Disappointed Tar Heel fan is disappointed... Julian Gamble, photobombing pro and Jim Larranaga, DDR enthusiast.

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