MILWAUKEE -- Thus far, there are a few things we know about Ohio State star and putative player of the year Evan Turner:
He's pretty good at the game of basketball. (OK, that one's a freebie.) He loves Lady Gaga. He doesn't much love the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. And there's one more: According to his teammates, Turner is, well, "different."
"He's just different," Ohio State guard David Lighty said Saturday. "Like we go out to eat or something, and he'll just order steak and bread, like a plain steak with nothing on it. That's what he'll eat. If his food is touching, he won't eat it. It's hard to explain. He's a little different in his own way. But it's nothing weird."
If one's mind immediately races to thoughts of Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's classic biopic "The Aviator," well, maybe the comparison is apt. Both were driven, both were geniuses at what they do, and both had their fair share of quirks. (To be fair to Turner, it seems doubtful the guard has ever spent months locked away in a private theater for fear of contracting invisible germs. There's quirky, and then there's Howard Hughes.)
In any case, Turner was certainly different in the Buckeyes' first-round game on Friday night. Usually demure, even good-natured, on the court, Turner was clearly agitated by the Gauchos, whose strategy for stopping the seemingly unstoppable guard revolved primarily around hacking Turner whenever he touched the ball. By the end of the game, even as Jon Diebler's 3s had pulled Ohio State comfortably away from UCSB, Turner was on the bench sarcastically jawing with referees.
Before the tournament began, Turner said he wanted to add a deep NCAA run to his Ohio State resume. To do that, he'll need to be more focused in Sunday night's game against Georgia Tech.
Thanks to their size, the Yellow Jackets present a serious challenge for Ohio State. The Buckeyes almost exclusively play four guards around center Dallas Lauderdale. Georgia Tech is one of the more imposing interior teams in the tournament; forwards Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors have the talent, to exert their will against anyone, let alone a team without the size to keep them out of the paint and off the offensive glass. If Lauderdale guards Lawal, who checks Favors? And vice versa?
"They've shown game after game after game they're really trying to pound the ball inside to the big guys," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Which they should. They're extremely talented. But I think the misnomer is the guys on the perimeter can also play."
Georgia Tech certainly acquitted itself well Friday night. The Jackets faced -- and stopped -- a perimeter-oriented team in Oklahoma State with an elite scorer in James Anderson and a dead-eye shooter in Keiton Page. Jackets guard Iman Shumpert limited Anderson to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting, forcing the guard into two critical turnovers down the stretch. Page, meanwhile, hit three 3-pointers in the first half but couldn't find any space to operate in the second.
To be sure, Oklahoma State isn't as talented as the Buckeyes; Turner and Diebler are very different players than Anderson and Page, and the Cowboys don't have the same type of peripheral options in Lighty and William Buford. But the template -- get the ball down low, stop the opponent's star guard, and win ugly down the stretch -- is there. Can Ohio State overcome it?
To do so, they'll need their quirky star to start looking less "different" and more like the Evan Turner that dominated college basketball for four months.
"I've known Evan for a long time," Matta said. "He may have reverted back a little bit [Friday night] to his freshman and early sophomore years. But he's in great spirits. He was in phenomenal spirits after the game."