Holding Serve Minus The Villain

By Chris Lauderback on December 9, 2009 at 7:00 am
The Villain is illin'Turner's bad break throws some major adversity Ohio State's way (AP: T. Gilliam)

After reading numerous comments about how the sky has fallen since Evan Turner's nasty spill and subsequent broken back, I'm thinking it might be wise to try and 'break' the situation down in an effort to talk those of you that care about OSU hoops off the ledge.

Now, I must admit, most of my motivation for this post is to try and talk myself off said ledge because there's absolutely no underestimating just how valuable the Villain is to Buckeye basketball however I am focused on helping us faithful find a way to open the garage door and shut off the engine before it's too late.

So far, the word from OSU athletic trainer Vince O'Brien is to expect eight Villain-Free weeks with the caveat that patients with transverse process fractures (second and third lumbar vertebra, in this case) can have varied recovery times. If, and that's assuredly a sizeable if, Turner comes back after exactly eight weeks, he would be back in action January 30th, just in time for a January 31st home game against Minnesota. With Turner sidelined, the Buckeyes will likely be forced to play at least 13 games without the conference's best player against the opponents shown below with what I hope is a cautious/realistic guess at the outcomes of those tilts:

Date Opponent Win/Loss?
12/12 @Butler Loss
12/16 Prysbeterian Win
12/19 Delaware St. Win
12/22 Cleveland St. Win
12/31 @Wisconsin Loss
1/3 @Michigan Loss
1/6 Indiana Win
1/9 @Minnesota Loss
1/12 @Purdue Loss
1/16 Wisconsin Loss
1/19 Northwestern Win
1/23 @West Virginia Loss
1/27 @Iowa Win

If the currently 7-1 Buckeyes do manage to go 6-7 in those 13 games, that would bring the cumulative season record to a fairly respectable 13-8, all things considered.

While some fans balk at the notion Turner will be full strength once he's cleared to play, O'Brien implies ET could very well be ready to roll considering he'll rest for a few weeks then begin exercising before gradually introducing drills and basketball activity, as tolerable. Even better, should Turner's recovery time be extended another two weeks and/or he is actually slow to get back in the saddle, the Buckeyes have a very soft schedule from January 31st through February 13th with four very winnable games:

Date Opponent Win/Loss?
1/31 Minnesota Win
2/3 Penn State Win
2/7 Iowa Win
2/10 @Indiana Win

Assuming my crystal ball has any luck and accuracy, the Buckeyes would stand at a sturdy 17-8 with Turner now 10 weeks removed from his ridiculously unlucky cracktacular tumble. That would give Ohio State another six regular season conference games with Turner on the floor against a schedule featuring two extremely difficult games with or without the Villain plus another four very winnable games:

Date Opponent Win/Loss?
2/14 @Illinois Win
2/17 Purdue Loss
2/20 @Michigan St Loss
2/24 @Penn State Win
2/27 Michigan Win
3/3 Illinois Win

So, if they go 4-2 down the stretch, Matta's crew would finish the regular season at 21-10. That might mean they need to win a conference tourney game but my glass half full thought is that the big dance selection committee will surely take into account Turner's absence and realize OSU would clearly be worthy of an at-large bid.

Of course, the win/loss projections sans Turner are a bit of a crap shoot depending on how a few players respond, most notably P.J. Hill, Jeremie Simmons and William Buford. As of Monday, Matta indicated he's yet to determine exactly how he'll round out the starting lineup but I am inclined to believe Hill will move into the starting point guard slot for a few reasons. First, Hill is really the only point guard left on the roster and with such a wing dominated roster, he will have some help bringing the ball up the floor either against the press or assuming anyone besides Lauderdale gets the defensive rebound and pushes the ball up court on their own.

Second, there's no question Jeremie Simmons is playing his best basketball as a Buckeye and that is due in large part to the fact he's playing his natural shooting guard position. Shifting him back to the point now could jeopardize his mojo plus keeping Simmons as the sixth man gives Matta some scoring punch off what is an increasingly short bench.

Another key factor to avoiding a collapse will be whether or not Buford has finally shaken an early season funk - one he showed signs of emerging from - in a 16 point, 10 assist performance albeit against a decidedly janky Eastern Michigan squad. If the Buford/Simmons tandem can't consistently step up and produce some points then my projections fly out the window along with any NCAA tourney hopes because it's not probable Diebler can carry a team considering his inability to create his own shot coupled with the notion opposing coaches will now consider him option one and construct their defensive game plans with an eye on taking him out of the offense.

Of course, another key element to Turner's absence is how it impacts OSU at the defensive end. With the rotation likely down to seven players barring major foul difficulty, Matta will have no choice but to go with more matchup zone a la last season to rest players and try to keep Lauderdale out of foul trouble. Additionally, no ET means Lighty, Buford and Diebler have to pick up the rebounding slack. If Lauderdale is left to fend for himself, the Buckeyes will get hammered on the offensive glass prompting visions of last season to dance through our heads.

Finally, I think it's important that Matta and his staff do their best to keep everyone from trying to do more than their capable of, especially Buford and Hill, or things could get ugly. The squad needs to be prepared for the fact they are going to lose some games against the tougher foes and not let that negatively effect the chances of cashing in on the six or so very winnable games they play through the end of January. Also, I'm sure Matta will remind his team how it responded last year in the first big game following Lighty's season ending injury - a 78-46 blowout loss at home to WVU - in hopes of avoiding a similar hangover effect Saturday at Butler. Still, I think it's important both players and fans realize a possible stinker on Saturday doesn't necessary have to be an indication of things to come.

It's time for this team and its fans to circle the wagons so there's still a chance for March Madness once the Villain returns. After what Turner did last year, putting the program on his back for over three months, he's owed at least that much.