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Entries in Evan Turner (12)


Will Thin Bench Be OSU's Undoing ... Again?

Picture of Jared Sullinger

One Great Season

A common refrain among college basketball observers this year has been some variation of "it's not often you lose the national Player of the Year and actually get better the next season."

Experts have been saying that the last eight weeks about Ohio State, which lost Evan Turner to the NBA after his junior season ended in a slightly surprising Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee in last year's NCAA Tournament.

But incoming freshman Jared Sullinger has been the best first-year player in America, and in the opinions of some, the best player in the country period. Exhibit A? Check the tape of his 27-point, 16-rebound effort in a nationally televised win at Illinois Saturday.

Steady seniors like David Lighty and Jon Diebler have another year of experience under their belts, as do William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale. Freshmen Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas have been splendid additions as well.

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NBA Draft: Evan Turner Will Slip To No. 4

Evan Turner

Former OSU Star Not
A Natural NBA Guard

One Great Season

A handful of basketball blogs, particularly some in Philadelphia, are rushing to the assumption that Evan Turner will be the 76ers pick at No. 2 in next month's NBA draft, with one going as far as calling Turner the "Savior of the Sixers."

And another suggests there's a debate whether the Washington Wizards will use their No. 1 pick on Turner or Kentucky point guard John Wall.

I'm certainly an OSU homer and a big ET guy, but I'm not sure Turner is the obvious second pick, and he's definitely not going No. 1.

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The Talented Mr. Turner was a great college basketball player, for sure, and as much as I'd love to see him have a Rookie-Of-The-Year kind of season next year, the NBA transition will be tougher for him than folks are estimating.

As a versatile point forward, Turner was more crafty than quick in handling the ball for the Buckeyes. He struggled against a pesky perimeter defense against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament in March. And just five or six months from now, NBA defenses will throw more than Demetri McCamey at him.

Turner also lacks an NBA shot. As a team, his Buckeyes were pretty dangerous from the perimeter, but ET got much of his own offense by being clever and creating space in drives down the lane. Sure he could knock down the occasional jumper, but his bread-and-butter was more suited for college than it will be for his first pro season or two.

If an NBA team asks him to play in the backcourt, he'll need to spend the summer working on protecting the basketball. Thad Matta had the rock in Turner's hands a huge chunk of the time, and I'd have done the same if I was the coach. But sometimes -- perhaps due to fatigue -- ET would handle the ball while being completely vertical, allowing smaller defenders to challenge him far from the basket. Turner needs to develop a natural guard's habit of staying low, keeping the ball out of a defender's reach and thereby maintaining some space in which to work.

I could see Philadelphia take Wesley Johnson, who is probably a more active defender than Turner, with ET slipping to Minnesota to join those young Timberwolves at No. 4.


Bracket Breakdown: Forecasting The Sweet 16 And Elite 8

John Wall

One Great Season

Surprises abound in the Sweet 16, and not all of them are pleasant.

Two days after Michigan State lost star point guard Kalin Lucas for the remainder of the tournament, West Virginia learned Tuesday that its own floor general, Truck Bryant, has a broken foot and also will be unable the rest of the way. I think Lucas' absence hurts the Spartans more than Bryant's hurts WVU.

But getting back to surprises, Cornell and Northern Iowa are hogging all the headlines. Let us not forget, however, about Omar Samhan and St. Mary's. Sure more unpredictable outcomes are on tap; about the only thing that won't surprise us this weekend will be that Miller Lite will show us the ad with Buster the dumb dog 15 times. Here's a preview:


+ WEST REGION: Xavier Fans Love Unheralded Senior Forward
+ EAST REGION: Cornell Cute, But Big Red Will Be Feeling Blue
+ TV CRITIC: March Adness: Cheers To Dos Equis
+ TOURNAMENT TAKEAWAYS: What The First Weekend Taught Us
+ KANSAS COLLAPSE: Jayhawks Fans Left Speechless, Except This One
+ RECIPE: 7 Ingredients For A National Championship
+ MARCH MADNESS: Tourney No Longer Leads To April Sadness
+ COUNTDOWN: The Top 10 Title Games Since 1979
+ LIST: The Top 10 Analysts In College Basketball
+ LIST: The Top 10 Play-By-Play Men In College Basketball

+ EAST -- Everybody wants to pick Cornell over Kentucky because a) if the Big Red does pull off the grand upset, they can say, "I predicted it. I'm really smart," and b) when UK wins, no one will really remember the idiots who picked Cornell. You've got brains vs. talent, experience vs. inexperience and discipline vs. the playground. Kentucky's youngsters haven't been bothered by the pressure of the single-elimination, high-stakes event. Cornell is good but Kentucky is better. UK wins and then slices past a West Virginia team that won't necessarily be troubled by Bryant's absence. The Mountaineers' real woes come from their inability to shoot the basketball, a large problem if they hope to beat a Kentucky team that averaged 95 points in its first two tournament games. UK advances to Indianapolis after a physical regional final.

+ SOUTH -- Purdue's grit has been impressive, but Duke is too versatile for the Boilermakers. The Devils are difficult to guard on the perimeter, and they're balanced on the blocks. Slow them down, speed them up, they can play either style and they can defend just as well. Duke beats Purdue and then meets Baylor, an easy winner over St. Mary's, in the regional final. The Baylor-St. Mary's game will be an excellent one, but the Bears will have a little too much firepower, even for Samhan and company. The Duke-Baylor final shall be a dandy, but the basketball gods gave Mike Krzyzewski a dangerous and balanced team this year, as well as a comfortable path to Indianapolis. Of course Duke will advance to meet Kentucky once again when the stakes are high.

+ WEST -- Syracuse, Syracuse, Syracuse. No offense to Kansas State or the Big 12, but the Orange are playing lights out and  I don't believe Arinze Onuaku's return will disrupt any rhythm Jim Boeheim's bunch found in its first two tournament games. And those were some games, eh? The Orange won each time by more than 20 points, including a surprisingly easy blowout of Gonzaga in round two. Syracuse breezes by Butler and will take a large load of confidence into the regional final against KSU. I'm still not fully convinced about Frank Martin. His glare and his overall freakish nature are well documented, and I get the connection he has with his players. But the Elite Eight is the big kid's table, and Boeheim has sat here before. Many times. And Kansas State might be a little beaten up after a nasty regional semifinal against Xavier. KSU will barely beat the Muskies in a knock-down, drag-out brawl. I can't wait to watch that game. But Syracuse advances from the West.
+ MIDWEST -- Northern Iowa proves it's not a one-trick pony with a defeat of a battered Michigan State team. I don't think it will require a gimmick or a heroic late shot, either. The Panthers followed up their defeat of UNLV by staying focused enough to beat top overall seed Kansas in the tournament's biggest upset so far. UNI really controlled that game from start to finish, and although it got sloppy late, it had just enough in the tank and will do the same against the tournament savvy Tom Izzo and his proud Spartans. Ohio State worries me some. Many think the Buckeyes are a lock to come out of the Midwest, but Evan Turner could struggle against Tennessee in a regional semifinal. The Vols will throw some athleticism his way, and since he's not a natural point guard, ET might struggle again with turnover problems. Perimeter assassin Jon Diebler will once again need to hit six or seven threes to keep UT's defense away from Turner some. I think Diebler will do it, and OSU will get a stronger fight in this round than against UNI in the regional final. Ohio State advances to face Syracuse in the Final Four.


Tournament Takeaways: What Day 2 Taught Us

Evan Turner

One Great Season

For fans of Cinderella, underdogs and buzzer-beaters, the second day of the NCAA Tournament didn't deliver the dramatics that day one did, but we still saw some quality basketball on Friday.

Saturday brings us the first day of the second round, and there are some good matchups on deck this weekend. But let's review the highs and lows from the second-best day in American sports:

+ Ohio State's Evan Turner is the best player in the country, but he's far from perfect. His poor night from the field isn't what should concern OSU fans, but his sometimes lazy and sloppy ballhandling should. I've actually thought this for a few weeks, particularly in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal against Illinois. Turner is dangerous on the bounce during transition or when he has a path to the basket, but sometimes when he tries to attack the lane in the half-court, he forgets to protect the basketball. Being 6-foot-7 and not a natural point guard, I'm sure he's used to being vertical, but as the Buckeyes advance, he'll need to protect the rock against smaller guards who've lately been able to knock the ball from him with regularity.

+ Nice to see the Big East bounce back with three wins in four tries Friday, after Thursday's disastrous 1-3 effort. West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse coasted to fairly easy wins. But Louisville got embarrassed by Cal, giving what was supposed to be a weak PAC 10 two wins in two games against the alleged top league in the country.

+ I'd read a bunch about Cornell the last three months but never once saw the Big Red on television until Friday. If the way they played is how they always play, then that was no upset. An excellent team beat Temple, and handily. It was pretty impressive when, after a few trips, CBS would show tight shots of Cornell players getting back on defense after a make. Sorry for the cliche, but you really could see a good, positive, laser-focus in the eyes of those players. They'll give Wisconsin a tough game Sunday. Or will Wisconsin give Cornell a tough game?

+ Glad to see Purdue get a gritty win over a game Siena team. The Saints might be a Gonzaga East in the making, as they've pulled off upsets the last two years and were subsequently a fashionable first-round upset pick for many. But even without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers showed they can win some games when their star is down. Chris Kramer was hardly the hero of the game for the winners, but if you're teaching your son how to play good, solid, fundamental basketball with a high motor, Kramer is Exhibit A.

+ And speaking of the Big Ten, a 4-1 start isn't too shabby. In addition to OSU and Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State hung tough to avoid upsets. Minnesota couldn't complete the skunking, however, as the Gophers fell to a very well-prepared Xavier team. XU coaches turn over every few years, but whomever is at the helm, the Muskies never disappoint come tournament time.

+ No. 10-seed Georgia Tech and No. 7 Oklahoma State squared off to settle an ACC-Big 12 dispute. Wake Forest beat Texas on Thursday, and early Friday, Missouri bounced Clemson. The Yellow Jackets won the rubber match, advancing to a very winnable game against Ohio State in Milwaukee on Sunday.

+ Friday's best Tweet came from KySportsRadio, who said after Louisville's horrendous start against California, "If this keeps up, Rick Pitino is only going to be able to get women in an Olive Garden."

+ And kudos to CBS' Seth Davis for breaking down the end of the New Mexico State-Michigan State game. Davis said on Twitter he'd spoken to the NCAA coordinator of officials by telephone and that both of them dissected the replay of what was thought by many to be a questionable lane-violation call. But Davis showed viewers at about 12:45 a.m. ET that it was the right call. However, Davis also showed the officials did screw up moments later when a ball was batted out of bounds with 0.7 seconds left in the game. By the time the operator stopped the clock, it read 0.3, but the officials didn't add the extra time, which could have been significant to New Mexico State.

+ For those who love Gus Johnson, here's an excellent soundboard of some of his great calls.


ET Phones Home With Buzzer-Beater To Beat Michigan

Evan Turner

One Great Season

I just spent the last, very frustrating hour on the telephone with US Airways. But as the call was wrapping up and I was nearing a resolution, it was Evan Turner who took flight and led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a first-class win over Michigan in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal in Indianapolis Friday afternoon.

When I called Thursday night, the fine customer service operator gave my would-be reservation a courtesy hold. A one-way flight to San Francisco in two weeks would cost me 25,000 miles, the same as a round-trip ticket. That's pretty steep, but hey, for this broke dude who hasn't worked since July, it's better than actual dollars.

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I'd found a cheap flight back from SFO a few days later, so I was just finalizing the outbound trip with US Airways this afternoon. But the gal had me on the line for more than a half hour before she told me there would be $135 in fees, down from the original $180 she'd previously quoted me. I demanded to speak to her supervisor, who broke down the charges this way:

+ $75 - expedited reservation fee (less than 14 days advance purchase)
+ $30 - reservation service fee
+ $25 - processing fee
+ $5 - security fee

What is the difference between a reservation fee and a processing fee? And with what's available and possible with technology these days, is either necessary? Are processing and reservation servicing two acts that require significant manpower?

Funny how I thought I'd be able to just make this call during the under-16 timeout.

So there I was, confirming the reservation and telling my long story to a supervisor, just minutes after telling my long story to her subordinate. I got what I wanted: an Ohio State victory.

I mean, I got $35 taken off the total fees, but along the way, shades of Ron Lewis popped into my head as the Buckeyes were about to inbound the ball after a timeout. They trailed by two with just 2.2 seconds left, and I thought it was odd that Michigan would lay back and not contest the pass to Evan Turner.

I couldn't stop thinking about Lewis, who drilled a three at the buzzer in a second-round game against in-state rival Xavier in 2007. After Lewis' heroic shot sent the game into overtime, the Buckeyes took over and ran away with the win, ultimately earning a spot in the national championsip game two weeks later.

And Friday, I had a funny feeling that Turner would take two or three dribbles and pull up just after the midcourt line and for some reason I knew that thing was going in. About 10 seconds after it did, I asked the woman to repeat herself.


Thursday Hoops Notebook: Big 12 Girls Gone Wild

Brittney Griner

One Great Season

Turns out female thuggery isn't reserved for college soccer. Check out this gem from Wednesday night, when Baylor's Brittney Griner, already a Youtube sensation for her dunking, clocks Texas Tech's Jordan Barncastle.

One thing I never get about cry-baby athletes is the rage-fueled quest to retaliate. Moments before the punch, Barncastle certainly fouled the hell out of Griner, but the refs made the call. Quit acting like a 2-year-old and go to the line and sink the free throws. Or, if you really have problems managing your hate, wait until you're at the other end of the court and return the favor with a hack across the mouth.

Remember the in-game conduct last fall of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert?

SEEDING MADNESS: Ohio State has worked its way into the conversation about NCAA Tournament top seeds. The Buckeyes have won 10 of their last 11 games, and despite a complete absence of a bench, they're well coached and their starting five is among the best in the country. I'd like to know the last team to earn a top seed with seven losses.

And don't forget the Bucks have the best player in the country, do-everything Evan Turner, who's more than capable of carrying OSU to a championship a la Danny Manning in 1988.

IF IFS AND BUTS: Speaking of Ohio State's starting five, imagine this lineup if no Buckeye would have left school early in 2007 or 2008:

+ PG Mike Conley Sr
+ SG Daequan Cook Sr
+ SF Evan Turner Jr
+ PF Kosta Koufos Jr
+ C Greg Oden Sr
+ 6th man - David Lighty Jr
+ 7th man - Jon Diebler Jr

THAT FINAL TOP SEED: Duke is more likely to win the ACC Tournament than Kansas State is to win the Big 12 Tournament, so expect the Blue Devils to grab that top honor out West. But then the question becomes, "Who's more deserving of the first No. 2 seed? Ohio State or Kansas State?" That does make a difference because the team that doesn't get it will be squared up with Kansas, Syracuse or Kentucky. Good luck getting past that trio.

FINAL THOUGHT: I hope the brackets line up in a way that will give us Kansas, the best team in the country, and Syracuse, the most complete team in the country, in the championship game on April 5 in Indianapolis.


Naismith Award: Is Evan Turner The Obvious Choice?

One Great Season

It's March and everyone's talking about college basketball. Is your team on the bubble?

While all the talk is about teams and brackets and seeds, let's not forget about some of the top individual players who hope to lead those squads deep into the NCAA Tournament.

So let's get started with my five leading candidates to win the coveted Naismith Award, which honors the best player in men's college basketball (stats through Feb. 28):

Evan Turner

+ Evan Turner, Jr, G, Ohio State
No one has as well-rounded a game as Turner, and his effort has been so consistent this year that even a six-game absence in midseason shouldn't keep him from winning this honor. Once he returned from breaking his back, he picked up where he left off, chasing down double-doubles each night out and even recording many near triple-doubles.

Turner leads the Big Ten in scoring (19.7 points per game) and rebounding (9.3), and is second in assists (5.9) and steals (1.9), but did you know he's also fifth in field-goal percentage (.543) and even ninth in blocks (1.0)? Before only playing 39 minutes on Saturday, Turner had played all 40 minutes in each of Ohio State's previous three games and has turned the trick nine times overall this year. He is carrying the Buckeyes toward a possible Big Ten championship and maybe even a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seed. No player in the country means more to his team than Turner.

The funny thing about Turner is that he seems more of a lock for national player of the year than Big Ten player of the year, as Michigan State's Kalin Lucas continues to get support for the league honor.

+ Sherron Collins, Sr, G, Kansas
Collins is KU's undisputed leader and obviously means a great deal to his team, but if you take him away, the Jayhawks are still dangerous, whereas the Buckeyes wouldn't even be an NIT squad without Turner.

But that shouldn't diminish Collins' candidacy for national honors. He leads the Jayhawks with 15.3 points per game and 4.3 assists, and also, despite playing for a deep team that plays eight guys at least 15 minutes, and another three players about seven minutes each, averages a team-best 32.7 minutes per game.

Late in a tight game, you want Collins on the line. He makes 84 percent of his free throws and is a proven winner. Kansas is 118-18 in Collins' four years at point guard.

John Wall

+ John Wall, Fr, G, Kentucky
No one in the country is more electrifying than Wall, and many expect him to be the first player taken in the NBA draft in June. But he still has some work to do before leaving Lexington, like lead the Wildcats to their first national championship since 1998.

Wall leads the team in scoring (16.7), assists (6.2) and minutes (34.4), and is third in rebounding (4.1). With the exception of Derrick Rose, no college basketball player in recent memory has shown his kind of explosiveness. He's also a defensive witch, averaging nearly two steals per game. He saved the day with a late gem at Vanderbilt on Feb. 20, preserving a narrow win over the ranked Commodores.

But even John Wall might have hit the wall. A slightly less-then-stellar February, perhaps due to his youth, might have taken him out of the top spot as Evan Turner continues his relentless push.

+ John Scheyer, Sr, G, Duke
Before he even stepped foot on the Durham campus, Scheyer was a Youtube legend after having scored 21 points in 75 seconds in an Illinois high school playoff game.

And he's been Mr. Steady in his four outstanding years at Duke. No doubt he's the ACC Player of the Year and he'll get some consideration for national POY honors, but he doesn't have the all-around game that Turner has.

Scottie Reynolds

+ Scottie Reynolds, Sr, G, Villanova
Much like Scheyer, Reynolds has been a key contributor since the first days he stepped on campus, seemingly seven or eight years ago.

It didn't take long for Reynolds to assert himself as a team leader, and now that his career is winding down, he's got his Wildcats poised to make a deep tournament run.

Reynolds is among Big East leaders in scoring, steals, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and three-point percentage. He might be the league's top player and could take a few votes away from Turner on any national ballot.

Also receiving consideration:

+ DeMarcus Cousins, Fr, C, Kentucky
+ James Anderson, Jr, G, Oklahoma State
+ Wesley Johnson, Jr, F, Syracuse

Ohio State Star Evan Turner Hates Purdue's Chris Kramer

Evan Turner

One Great Season

Just a few days after four-year starter Chris Kramer helped Purdue hand Ohio State its first home loss of the season, Buckeyes National Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner called Kramer out on Twitter.

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At about 1 a.m. Monday, Turner, whose handle is @thekidet, dropped some Twash Talk on the popular, short-form social networking site that read: "reason why chris kramer doesnt guard the other team's best player anymore is because he cant lol."

One Great Season found the jab first and replied to Turner, but got no response from the OSU star, who earlier Sunday had led his Bucks to a gritty win at Michigan State to stay near the top of the Big Ten standings.

YOUR THOUGHTS: Is Evan Turner The Best Player In The Country?

Over the next hour or two, at least a couple other Twitter users picked up on the late-night dig and directed some of their own trash talk toward Turner:

@gbo82: "used to like you honestly...but its clear being a very good player has gone to your head and you are in a dick."

@zwpeterson: "your a college kid calling another player out on twitter just leave it on the court."

Turner then replied to the above Tweeters:

"@gbo82 I was watchin tv and they said he doesn't guard the other team's best player til the end of the game and that's what made me say it."

"@zwpeterson I said this to his face plenty of times. I wasn't trying to call him out. I was responding to somethin I saw on tv."

And then:

"say one thing and everyone acts like I stole their dog lol. Take it easyyyyy."

Sure Twitter can be a light-hearted, sometimes fun, way to communicate with the mini-masses, but for a high-profile athlete to call out another on Twitter is just ridiculous. Can't we act like grown-ups, like Shaq and Dwight Howard, who are fighting over more important things, like who deserves the "Superman" nickname?


Lack Of Depth Could Be Ohio State's Undoing

Evan Turner

One Great Season

In the fickle world of high-profile sports, the Purdue Boilermakers are now my favorite college basketball team.

Just kidding. As you know, I've been crushing on Ohio State for a while and since the Buckeyes (20-7, 10-4 Big Ten) lost a game they should have won at West Virginia last month, they've bounced back so impressively that I thought there was no team in the country playing better than them.

Until Wednesday night.

Purdue avenged a January loss to OSU by earning a hard-fought, 60-57 win in Columbus and in the process, exposing the Buckeyes at least a little bit.

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Ohio State's lack of depth is hardly a news bulletin, but it hadn't really caught up with the Bucks until Wednesday's first home loss of the season. The West Virginia setback was more a case of playing poorly after halftime than it was playing fatigued.

But if you paid attention to the way Purdue defended OSU's National Player of the Year candidate, Evan Turner, you'll agree he earned every one of his 29 points. He and three teammates played all 40 minutes, and while rallying late in front of the home crowd will certainly get the adrenaline pumping, I'm curious how just a six- or seven-man rotation will work on the back end of a two-games-in-three-days stretch on a neutral floor in next month's tournament. Sheesh, the Big Ten tournament will be even more difficult playing on consecutive days.

And in the case of Purdue (22-3, 10-3), I must admit, that three-game losing streak that followed its 14-0 start made me think perhaps the Boilermakers were more suited for a third-place finish in the Big Ten. But with home games against Illinois on Saturday and Michigan State eight days later, I think we'll see a team more than capable of winning the league.

It's hard not to be impressed with a road win in Columbus by a Purdue team that didn't get its first points from Robbie Hummel until eight minutes remained in the game. JaJuan Johnson stole the show for the visitors, connecting early and often from all over the floor. He finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, and committed only two fouls and one turnover in 39 minutes. He owned OSU bigs Dallas Lauderdale and Kyle Madsen.

Many bloggers like to sound the alarm after one loss, and while that's not my style, I will go far enough to suggest that maybe Thad Matta should give his boys Thursday off to soak in a tub and maybe not think about basketball for a day. It's mid-February, the team did just win nine straight Big Ten games and I'm sure they're exhausted. That's the advantage of playing so many Sunday games; if you want to rest your guys in a case like this, you can do it and still have a tough practice on Friday.

But it doesn't get much easier. OSU visits league bully Michigan State (21-6, 11-3) on Sunday (noon ET, CBS) to try to keep pace near the top of the Big Ten.


Is Evan Turner The Best Player In The Country?

Evan Turner

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.

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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


Wednesday Hoops Notebook: Badgers Ready To Pounce

Jordan Taylor

One Great Season

After Tuesday's convincing defeat of Michigan State, Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3 Big Ten) has a very favorable remaining schedule down the stretch. The Badgers already have split with Purdue and Ohio State, and the toughest league opponent left for them is Illinois, which Wisconsin will play twice. Two games against Indiana also await, as do games against Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa.

The Badgers seem to be rounding into form as they await the return of Jon Leuer. Left on Michigan State's schedule are road dates at Illinois and Purdue, as well as home games against Ohio State and Purdue. And Sparty (19-4, 9-1) might have to play without reigning Big Ten Player Of The Year Kalin Lucas, who left Tuesday's game with a badly sprained ankle.

With Purdue getting healthy and Ohio State playing some nice basketball, the conference race just got a lot more interesting.

TWITTER NOTES: Here's a sign that we are definitely living in an interesting time: Ohio State star Evan Turner, whose Twitter handle is @thekidet, offered up a sympathetic note ("glad u ain't get hurt on that fall my dude") to Syracuse star Wesley Johnson -- @W_Johnson -- after Johnson landed very awkwardly during Tuesday's game against Providence.

Shortly after Syracuse wrapped up the easy win, Johnson, who ended up being OK, reciprocated: "Appreciate it bro."

TEXAS BOAST: I know it's just one win, but I think Texas has broken free from its slump. You barely heard the names Damion James, Avery Bradley, Dexter Pittman or J'Covan Brown on Monday night's broadcast, yet the Longhorns beat a decent Oklahoma State team on the road by a dozen. That's impressive, as was Jordan Hamilton's second-half scoring spree.

UCONN'T HANDLE THIS TRUTH: Connecticut isn't struggling because its coach, Jim Calhoun, is on medical leave. The Huskies are struggling because they're just not as good as they usually are. Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson are nice guards, but there's not much else about UConn that excites me.


College Basketball Notebook: Tar Heels In Trouble

Roy Williams

One Great Season

With exactly two months left until Selection Sunday, it's about time I start posting on college basketball.

Let's do it in notebook fashion, shall we?

+ Defending champion North Carolina is in trouble this year. The Heels only lost four times last season, but already have five losses this year, three of them by double figures, including last night's 83-64 dismantling at the hands of Clemson.

+ Speaking of Clemson, don't be fooled by the Tigers' 14-3 record. It's not uncommon for them to rush out of the gate, win a bunch of games and even earn a nice national ranking. But once the February doldrums set in, for some reason, Clemson teams are rarely up to the grind and they often flame out.

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+ And speaking of flaming out, has anyone seen Cincinnati the last few games? I used to criticize Bob Huggins' teams for not being mentally strong enough to finish tight games against good teams. Late mental mistakes cost the Bearcats many close ones back then, and that seems to remain the trend under Mick Cronin, now in his fourth year there. But unlike Huggins' teams, Cronin's don't finish seasons well, missing out on the NCAA tournament with weak late-season showings the last two years.

Ashley Judd

+ Just down the road in Lexington, it's great to see John Calipari restore the tradition at Kentucky, but given his track record, you can't help but wonder what kind of trouble looms there. Nonetheless, John Wall isn't just the best freshman in the country; he's the best player. And he and DeMarcus Cousins are the best young tandem in the nation, and with Patrick Patterson manning the post, look for the Wildcats to play deep into March.

+ Back to Huggins ... As much as I wanted him out at Cincinnati long before he was fired, he's like that ex-girlfriend that I just can't get over. If West Virginia is on television, I will almost always watch. I even became a one-and-done Kansas State fan when he had a cup of coffee there. But he's got his Mountaineers playing solid basketball, and I reckon they'll get a nice tournament seed and advance to at least the second weekend.

+ The best game left on the regular-season schedule is a no-brainer. Former No. 1 Kansas visits current No. 1 Texas on Monday, Feb. 8. Each side boasts a core of veterans, a good mix of perimeter and interior players and a star freshman. Kansas' Xavier Henry is a nice scorer with three-point range and a great body for such a young guard. Texas' Avery Bradley is improving on offense, but he's a lockdown perimeter defender and a fierce competitor.

+ Don't sleep on Ohio State. Sure I'm a homer, but the earlier-than-expected return of all-everything star Evan Turner already has paid huge dividends. ET scored 23 of his career-high 32 points in the second half of a huge comeback win at No. 6 Purdue Tuesday. OSU doesn't have a great record (12-5, 2-3), but a road win like that, coupled with a healthy conference player of the  year candidate, can only boost the Buckeyes' confidence.