OSU Turns To Life Without Turner

For the second time in a little more than four months, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta will have to try to replace Evan Turner. The difference is that this time the replacement will be permanent, as Turner will head to the NBA. Take an early look at how the Buckeyes might try to cope with the loss of their key playmaker.

In one sentence, David Lighty summed up what Ohio State will have to replace next season with the loss of Evan Turner.

"That's 20, 10 and 5 right there you've got to replace collectively," he said following Turner's press conference.

Those numbers are roughly the points (20.4), rebounds (9.2) and assists (6.0) Turner averaged as a junior while earning five national player of the year awards. At a Wednesday press conference, Turner announced his plans to skip his senior season and head to the NBA, where he is expected to be a top-three draft pick.

Lighty knows a thing or two about having to replace important teammates. Turner is the sixth Buckeye to leave early for the NBA since Lighty's freshman season, and the five who preceded Turner were all first-round selections.

But while the likes of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Kosta Koufos proved difficult to replace, none of them had the overall impact Turner did this past season. After moving to point guard during the summer, the Chicago native became the focal point of the offense.

It is not just his ability to handle the ball that the Buckeyes will miss. Or simply his scoring. It is the whole package that made Turner such a difficult player to plan against.

Now, it will make him a difficult player to replace.

"As we go into next year, if you pinpointed me right now how exactly we're going to play I don't know," head coach Thad Matta said, "but I like the guys we've got coming back and I like the guys we've got coming in."

Although the Buckeyes lose four scholarship players from this year's roster, Turner is the only one to average more than 14 minutes per game.

"I think our team is going to be a little different when you lose a guy like Evan who did so much for us," guard Jon Diebler said. "We're just going to have a different team, but we still have a lot of great players coming back and we're very confident in what we have coming in."

First up, however, is the question of who will direct the OSU offense this season. For that, Matta has a few options on his plate. Freshman Jared Sullinger is already penciled in as a starter, but the question is whether or not he replaces incumbent center Dallas Lauderdale, who will be a senior.

If the two play together, OSU's three starting wings from last season not named Turner (William Buford, Diebler and Lighty) each figure to remain as starters and a point guard could potentially be found among them. Sullinger and fellow incoming freshman DeShaun Thomas pegged Buford as a potential candidate to man the point, while Lighty pointed out that he helped share the responsibilities when Turner was lost to injury for six games in midseason.

Diebler has handled some limited point guard duties as well, but Turner's two primary backups this season were seniors in P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons.

But if Sullinger takes Lauderdale's spot, one or both of two incoming freshmen could fill the void. Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith are rated as four- and three-star prospects, respectively, by Scout.com. Craft is rated the No. 18 point guard in the class of 2010, while Smith is pegged four spots lower.

Asked who he thinks will run the point next season, Diebler said, "No idea. Coach will get one of us ready and I know we've got some guys coming in who can play. I think right now we're all just worried about getting ready in every aspect of the game."

Overall, OSU's incoming freshman class is among the highest rated in the nation. In addition, Diebler, Lighty and Buford each averaged at least 12.6 points per game last season.

"We as a staff sit and think about it," Matta said. "We've got great players in this program. With what's coming in and what we have, it's still exciting for me."

It's also apparently exciting for ESPN analyst Dick Vitale. In a column printed April 6 on ESPN.com, Vitale pegged the Buckeyes as the No. 2 team in the country for next season even without Turner.

"Thad Matta will have the likes of William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty back," Vitale wrote. "Then add one of the premier recruiting classes in the nation, led by Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. This, my friends, will be the team to beat in a very tough Big Ten."

Likewise, Lighty said the expectations for next season do not change with Turner's departure.

"We never lower our standards here just because someone is leaving," he said. "I believe our commitment to the game and playing well is what makes us so good, so as long as we get the six guys coming in on the same path as us, I think we'll be all right."

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