Vols vs. 'The Villain'

If Tennessee sees another NCAA Tournament run die in the Sweet 16 this Friday night, the likely culprit is a guy appropriately known as "The Villain."

That would be Ohio State's Evan Turner. A lot of folks think the 6-foot-7, 210-pound junior superstar is the NCAA's premier basketball player, including Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel.

Mandel calls Turner "the most complete player in the country, the most valuable to his team and the most productive all-around guard the sport has seen in years."

Vol coach Bruce Pearl tends to agree, noting that Turner "might be the best player in college basketball. He's already received that honor from Sporting News. He's really good."

How good?

Exhibit A: Turner missed six games earlier this season with a back injury. The Buckeyes went 3-3 without him, one of the losses being a 65-43 beat-down at the hands of Wisconsin. OSU is 26-4 when he plays.

Exhibit B: Turner leads his team in points (20 per game), rebounds (9.2 per game) and assists (6.0 per game), even though he is playing out of position at point guard.

Exhibit C: Turner just missed his third triple-double of the season last Sunday in Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament, finishing with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists as the Buckeyes beat Georgia Tech 75-66.

"The better he plays," OSU coach Thad Matta said, "the better we play."

Making Turner's performance vs. Tech all the more impressive was the fact it came on the heels of a 2-for-13 shooting performance against Cal-Santa Barbara in Ohio State's NCAA Tournament opener.

UCSB's game plan was simple: If you can't tame him, maim him. The Gauchos bumped and jostled Turner from one end of the court to the other.

"The physicality, we saw quite a bit of that down the stretch in the Big Ten," Matta said. "Teams (are) really starting to try to do that. He's got to do just a better job of kind of playing through it."

Here's the bad news for Tennessee: Even with Turner sinking just 2 of 13 shots, Ohio State routed Santa Barbara 68-51. That's because he and his Buckeye teammates can beat opponents in an assortment of ways.

"He's capable of distributing the ball," Pearl said. "He's got 128 assists. They handle the ball really well. Their assist/turnover ratio is outstanding because they've got really good basketball players on the floor.

"They've got lots of different dimensions. They can win without Turner scoring big."

Whether or not Tennessee tries to contain Turner with physicality - as UCSB did - remains to be seen. But the Vols definitely will try to contain him with numbers. J.P. Prince, a 6-8, 205-pound senior, will be one of several UT players assigned to contain the Buckeye baller.

"You can't guard a guy like that with one player," Pearl said of Turner. "Still, there will be times when J.P. is matched up with him, and he's going to have to stop him one-on-one. J.P. does give us a chance to compete at that position."

Prince did a superior job of shutting down San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard in Tennessee's NCAA tourney opener, limiting the 6-foot-7 forward to 12 points. Shutting down Turner will be much more difficult.

"That was a very talented freshman," Pearl said of Leonard. "This is arguably the best player in the country."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories