KNOXVILLE -- Point guard Bobby Maze is more than a little confident in the defensive abilities of fellow Tennessee senior J.P. Prince. He said every Volunteer feels the same way.
"All of us can defend," Maze said Monday night. "But with J.P.'s size and length and his ability to move his feet, when we wants to, he can shut down anybody in the country."
Even Ohio State national player of the year candidate Evan Turner?
"Anybody in the country," Maze repeated.
Prince can prove that theory Friday night in St. Louis, when the sixth-seeded Vols (27-8) will play the second-seeded Buckeyes (29-7) in a Sweet Sixteen rematch from three years ago. He and Turner each is listed as 6-foot-7.
If Prince is even the slightest bit nervous about the defensive matchup, he hasn't showed it.
"Same as always," Prince said after Monday's practice. "Nothing changes. I'm the same, no matter what's going on any day of the week.
"I'm always me. I'm always confident in myself and my team."
Few could potentially punish that confidence like Turner, who already has been declared the country's best player by several reputable sources, including the United States Basketball Writers' Association and The Sporting News.
The versatile Turner can play point guard, 2 guard or the 3 spot with exceptional ease.
His per-game averages would be a career night for most players: 20 points, 9.2 rebounds and six assists. He leads the Buckeyes in all three categories, as well as steals and field-goal percentage. He averages nearly two blocks and two steals per game.
"Turner's just a guy that makes plays," UT sophomore guard Scotty Hopson said. "He does a lot of different things on the basketball floor, offensively and defensively. He's the catalyst to their team. When he's playing well, they're playing well. When he's distributing the ball, they're doing well.
"We've just got to do our best to stop him, keep him out of a rhythm and make him take contested jump shots, because he hasn't taken a lot of them during the season. We're just going to try to hold him down."
The Vols, unlike previous seasons under coach Bruce Pearl, have generally been solid at containing a team's best player -- except against Kentucky, which has four players who would be the best player on most teams.
Pearl understandably didn't divulge the bulk of Friday's defensive game plan, but he openly vowed to not make any Vol match up one-on-one with Turner for a vast majority of the game. He made similar comments about South Carolina's Devan Downey -- one of the few players in the nation who mean as much to their team as Turner.
The 6-7 Hopson and 6-6 Cameron Tatum will be asked to help contain Turner. Maze and fellow point guard Melvin Goins also could be asked to help harass the Buckeyes' star from time to time.
Steven Pearl -- a solidly built, 6-5 walk-on who never shies from contact -- could be asked to bang with Turner when he drives to the rim.
But Prince might be the only Vol asked to try going man-to-man with Turner in a half-court set.
"You can't guard a guy like that with one player," Pearl said. "Yet and still, there will be times when J.P. will be matched up with him, and he'll have to stop him one-on-one. J.P. does give us a chance to compete at that position."
Prince has guarded a wide variety of players this season, from point guards to power forwards. From game to game, the only defensive assignment he never anticipates is an opponent's center.
Consistency hasn't been 100 percent. Ohio wing Tommy Freeman burned the Vols with a few 3-pointers after Prince did his trademark lean toward midcourt to try cherry-picking a slam dunk on the other end of the floor.
Generally, though, a focused Prince is a pest who doesn't surrender many points.
Prince drew a tough defensive assignment in UT's opening-round NCAA tournament win over San Diego State last weekend. He got matched up with Kawhi Leonard, a 6-foot-7 McDonald's All-American with a 7-foot wingspan.
But Pearl expected Prince to hold his own against one of the best freshmen from the West Coast, and that's basically what happened. His 12 points and 10 rebounds were nearly identical to his season averages, but he'd recently been playing at a much higher clip.
"I knew what a tough cover Leonard was, and how he had dominated his position throughout the season," Pearl said. "But I thought that J.P. could handle him.
"Now that was a very talented freshman. (Turner) is arguably the best player in the country."
Inarguably, though, Prince isn't intimidated. He was also a five-star prospect coming out of Memphis White Station High School, and some have suggested that myriad health issues have been the only thing preventing him from becoming one of the nation's most prominently known college players.
"I don't ever go into a game thinking I can't do everything my coaches ask me to do," Prince said. "If they didn't think I could do it, they wouldn't put me in that position."
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