By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
Evan Turner wasn't necessarily a highlight reel Sunday, but his overall play was instrumental yet again in Ohio State's most recent triumph.
The visiting Buckeyes blasted a pretty good Illinois team riding a five-game winning streak, including a pair of victories over Big Ten heavies Michigan State and Wisconsin.
But OSU, enjoying its own five-game trend heading into the game, got splendid perimeter play from juniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty, and Turner was more than comfortable setting them up.
The trio combined for 51 points, including ET's 16, part of a near-triple double that also included 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Outside of maybe Kansas' Sherron Collins, no player is more valuable to his team than Turner. For some reason, OSU's huge game against Purdue on Wednesday is not scheduled to be televised, but if you watch the Bucks play at Michigan State -- another large conference clash -- on Sunday (Noon, CBS), you'll see he does everything for his team. Not only leading the offense and sharing the basketball, but also energizing an increasingly active defense. Illinois had absolutely no answers for OSU's zone on Sunday.
Turner and the Buckeyes kind of remind me of Francisco Garcia and the 2005 Louisville Cardinals, who started to peak in February and rode a balanced offense all the way to the Final Four. Garcia was clearly the most dangerous weapon on that team, but his supporting cast was more than capable, and his unselfishness only made them better.
Further proof of Turner's value to his team comes next season, when he'll probably be playing in the NBA and the Buckeyes, who bring back every other starter, likely will struggle without him.
BIG UPSETS IN BIG EAST: Speaking of Louisville, the Cardinals got a huge resume win at Syracuse Sunday, and now with two winnable games up next, Rick Pitino's bunch appears headed for an NCAA bid.
As hard as Louisville tried to give the game away -- the Cards missed five free throws and turned the ball over in the final 1:41 -- the visitors held on to beat the Orange for the fifth straight time. The teams meet again in the season finale for both in Louisville on March 6.
And although Rutgers isn't headed to the NCAA Tournament, the Scarlet Knights earned a nice win over visiting Georgetown on Sunday. A Jekyll-and-Hyde stretch that includes wins over Duke and Villanova has seen the Hoyas drop three of their last six games. Georgetown has Syracuse and West Virginia on its remaining schedule, so the Hoyas will still be able to bolster their resume for a favorable NCAA seed.
FINAL FOUR PICKS: It seems like more teams are playing themselves out of top seeds than into them. Kansas and Kentucky could be a delicious championship game, but Syracuse, a team I've liked all season, struggled at home to beat a weak Connecticut squad before losing at home to Louisville. Just a February bump or a sign of something bigger?
+ EAST: Villanova (Duke)
+ SOUTH: Kentucky (West Virginia)
+ MIDWEST: Kansas (Michigan State)
+ WEST: Syracuse (Gonzaga)
+ SLEEPER: Siena
DePAUL OFFERS SCHOLARSHIP TO 14-YEAR-OLD: DePaul has offered a basketball scholarship to 14-year-old Jahlil Okafor, and that doesn't sit well with ESPN analyst Bob Knight.
"If I were a parent, I wouldn't want anybody talking to my son about going to college until he's on his way toward finishing high school," he said on SportsCenter on Monday morning. Didn't Knight do just about the same thing with Damon Bailey 25 years ago?
TUBE TIME: I still can't get over the Purdue-Ohio State game not being televised, but there are a few good ones coming up later this week:
+ Thursday: Syracuse at Georgetown, 7 p.m., ESPN2
+ Saturday: Illinois at Purdue, 4 p.m., ESPN
+ Saturday: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m., ESPN