ST. LOUIS - The beauty of the Ohio State basketball team is this: regardless of who their opponent is, the Buckeyes can usually count on having the best player on the basketball court on their side.
So when looking at No. 6-seed Tennessee's game plan heading into their matchup with the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament Friday night, it sounds a lot like what all of Ohio State's previous opponents' all aimed to accomplish.
Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said it again. Tennessee's go-to defensive strategy is to take Ohio State junior point guard Evan Turner out of the game the best that they can.
"Evan Turner's got to be you're first priority," Pearl said Thursday. "He is a big guard and he can put those guys on his back and win the game."
That could be easier said than done, as a handful of teams have already figured that out the hard way. Turner has taken over games so many times already this year, which could be the reason many feel he is the front-runner to win the national player of the year award.
But Pearl has some extra expertise when it comes to dealing with dynamic point guards at Ohio State, as his team lost to the Buckeyes in the NCAA Regional Semifinal in San Antonio in 2007, based largely in part of the stellar play of former point guard Mike Conley Jr..
Conley, who helped engineer a comeback after his Buckeyes trailed by 17 points at halftime, scored 17 points, had seven rebounds, and dished out six assists in perhaps one of the most memorable wins in the Thad Matta era.
"Conley hurt us," Pearl said Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis as he recalled the loss in the Sweet 16 in 2007. "Conley hurt us turning corners and getting to the basket and getting to the foul line."
But what could be scarier for Pearl is the Buckeyes point guard could be better than the previous one that caused damage to his Volunteers, or at least that's how he sees it on the surface.
Despite the fact that Conley was more of a pure point guard that used his vast quickness to slice through the defense en route to the hoop or to distribute the ball more effectively, Turner could cause more of a disruption when it comes to match-ups.
While Turner certainly doesn't mirror Conley's game, his immense size and length on the floor causes different problems for the Volunteers. Turner, a point-forward if you will, has used his immaculate body control to take over games all season, whether that means getting to the rim or pulling down rebounds.
Turner has been so good, in fact, that Pearl made quite the bold statement on Thursday in regards to the Buckeye junior.
"Offensively, I think Turner is a better point guard than Michael Conley," Pearl said.
"Michael Conley was a great player as a freshman, but Turner, as a junior, playing the same position, I think he's harder to match up with."
The Volunteers know guarding Turner will be a task that they haven't been faced with all year.
"It is a team approach," said Cameron Tatum in regards to how they'll try and contain Turner. "He is a great player, outstanding player, probably the player of the year, so it is going to take everybody, all 12 of us, to stop Evan Turner.
"He is a different kind of player," he added. "He is a 6-foot-7 point guard, so we aren't really used to playing someone like that at that position. I think (our size) gives us an advantage and helps a lot, but on paper it can always look good. It is all about how you go out and play."
Different strategies have already been put to work when it comes to slowing Turner down in the NCAA Tournament, but UC-Santa Barbara seemed to have employed the correct game plan when it came to containing Ohio State's most dynamic player.
The Gauchos kept Turner out of his rhythm for the entire game by applying as much pressure as possible on him whenever the junior held the ball. And, when push came to shove, UCSB wasn't hesitant to get Turner on a hard, yet clean, foul.
As a result, Turner had perhaps his worst game of the season for the Buckeyes, finishing the game with just nine points on 2-of-13 shooting from the floor.
Turner, though, thinks the game is simple. He has been defended every imaginable way, but he always comes back with the same answer when asked how he plans to attack different and new schemes.
"It is just playing basketball," he said.
So far, that approach has worked.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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