Ohio State's Tournament Hopes on the Line Without Evan Turner?

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IDecember 11, 2009

It is perfectly clear what Evan Turner's role on the Ohio State basketball team was.

Do everything...and do it well.

Turner averaged 31.5 minutes, 18.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. His leadership is unquestioned by his teammates, and when the Buckeyes needed a big basket, more often than not, the junior made the play.

Now the Buckeyes must regroup and find a way to exist without its best player, who is arguably the top player in the Big Ten and possibly the country.

The Buckeyes star will miss the next 6-8 weeks with two broken bones in his back. The injury occurred after Turner fell seven feet onto his back following a first-half dunk during a blowout victory over Eastern Michigan.

"I kept saying, 'Get up, please get up,''' coach Thad Matta said. "It was such a freak deal.''

For the second year in a row, a major injury—David Lighty suffered a broken foot around this same time last season—has clouded the Buckeyes' outlook for the rest of the season.

"Our guys will regroup and prepare for the rest of our season," Matta said after the game.

The silver lining for Ohio State is that the team, though not incredibly deep, is full of veteran players.

Starters John Diebler, William Buford, Dallas Lauderdale, and Lighty—none of whom are seniors—have logged a lot quality minutes for the Buckeyes over the last few seasons. But, each will need to elevate their contribution to try to make up for Turner's production.

The team's seniors—P.J. Hill, Jeremie Simmons, and Kyle Madson—will all see an increased role, though it will be Hill who will most likely get the start in place of Turner.

Hill is a relentless defender, but his offensive output has been minimal this season, though he did have a career high 18 points in relief of Turner against Eastern Michigan.

In any combination, the Buckeyes are looking at a treacherous eight weeks without Turner.

Starting with Saturday's showdown with No. 22 Butler at Hinkle Field House, the Buckeyes will play 13 games.

After the Bulldogs on Saturday, there is a manageable three-game stretch against Presbyterian, Delaware State, and Cleveland State. Then, things get a bit iffy for the Buckeyes.

Two games with Wisconsin, at Michigan, at Minnesota, at Purdue, and at West Virginia at this point seem long shots.

If Turner is ready to play, as he insists, his return would be just in time for a January 31 home date with Minnesota. But, his return during the Big Ten season is highly speculative at this point.

Matta, who has suffered from back problems for years, is being very cautious with Turner.

"I've got one foot from back problems,'' said Matta, who wears a brace. "I know not to mess with the back. I told him, 'Understand, first and foremost, it's about you.' We're probably still a month away in discussing [a return]. We don't know anything yet. He's seeing another doctor. Right now he's still real, real sore.''

Turner has started therapy already, walking in a pool at the Buckeyes' football facility, but his conditioning will be limited while he's out. That will create more lag time between his first practice and his first game action.

Considering the Buckeyes' schedule and taking a conservative approach in the timetable for Turner's return to the court, Ohio State could still find themselves dancing in March.

The key will be to win the games it should win.

Ohio State must beat the Iowas and Indianas on their Big Ten schedule and not stumble in that "gimme" three-game stretch, but 20 wins is certainly still very realistic.

A healthy Evan Turner returning in time for the end of the Big Ten season and the Big Ten Tournament, 20 or more wins, and a sympathetic NCAA committee—OSU athletic director Gene Smith will chair the committee this season—should be enough for the Buckeyes to go dancing in March.