PROVIDENCE, R.I. - It's hard to know exactly what Tennessee senior J.P. Prince will do next for the Vols.
Defensive stopper one minute, show stopper the next, Prince continues to find ways to come up big in the clutch for UT.
Opponents have double-teamed Wayne Chism inside, shaded Scotty Hopson on the perimeter and pestered Tennessee's point guards.
But there doesn't seem to be a plan to stop Prince. At least, there wasn't an effective one in the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, where Prince's play spearheaded the Vols' march into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
One moment he's slashing for a dunk or a lay-in; the next, he's directing traffic in the lane as a passer. The 6-foot-7 senior gets his share of put-back baskets, but then, he's been known to cherry pick fast-break points, too.
Prince's 83-inch wingspan has led to numerous deflections, and his film study of opponents has enabled him to jump passing lanes for steals.
His shot ranges from the pull-up jumper variety to a no-arc, flat-footed 3-pointer that has proven more effective down the stretch (5 of 12 over the past eight games) than anyone might have expected.
The only person capable of stopping Prince, it seems, is Prince himself.
"I've told J.P. that this is how it can be,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl, who watched Prince lead the Vols with 18 points in Saturday's second-round 83-68 demolition of Ohio. "When he's focused and when he's playing hard, he's tremendous.''
No doubt, when Prince is on his game the sixth-seeded Vols look pretty good, too.
UT (27-8) plays second-seeded Ohio State (29-7) on Friday night (TV: WVLT, 7:07 p.m.) in a Sweet 16 game in St. Louis hoping for more big things from Prince, and the numbers show why.
Tennessee is 9-3 over its past 12 games - 9-0 when Prince scores in double figures, 0-3 when he does not.
Prince said it's not a matter of playing hard so much as it is playing healthy.
"I feel like now that I'm finally healthy, I can show everyone what I'm made of,'' Prince said. "Once again, I didn't have an offseason to work out, and it wasn't really until the start of SEC play that I felt 100 percent.''
Prince has undergone shoulder surgeries each of the past two summers; once on his left, and then on his right.
"People forget that sickness I had at Arizona made me very limited for a long time, too,'' said Prince, who transferred to UT from Arizona in January of 2007.
The sickness was a result of a wisdom tooth extraction gone terribly bad. A severe infection caused respiratory issues that led to Prince being placed into an induced coma and on a respirator for 16 days.
"I remember when I came to I was completely immobile, like an 80-year-old,'' Prince said. "I couldn't walk 10 feet. I passed out trying to walk. People saw me at my worst.''
It wasn't the future Prince imagined after earning 2005 Class 3A Mr. Basketball honors and the Gatorade Tennessee Player of the Year award while leading Memphis White Station High School to three consecutive state titles.
Prince played 28 games as a point guard with Arizona in 2005-06. He dished out 51 assists and made 24 steals while logging 12.4 minutes per game coming off the bench.
But 2006-07 didn't start so well; Prince dropped weight, and dropped down the depth chart because of the illness. A transfer back to his home state was in order.
The Vols gladly welcomed him, especially title-hungry All-American and former player Chris Lofton.
"He can do everything,'' Lofton said after seeing Prince for the first time. "He's long, bouncy, he gets to the rim and finishes, or he can kick a pass back out.''
Lofton's assessment holds true three years later, except Prince has put on 30 pounds.
The added strength enabled him to body-up on San Diego State star Kawhi Leonard, a 6-7, 225-pounder, in the Vols' first-round 62-59 win over the Aztecs.
Prince harassed the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year into a 5-of-15 shooting performance while scoring a team-high 15 points.
"Leonard physically overwhelms a lot of people, but I thought we had a good match up there,'' Pearl said. "J.P. is a tough kid, and his toughness doesn't get enough attention.''
UT fans have celebrated and berated Prince over his career in Knoxville, sometimes both in the same game.
Prince's swagger and confidence have been effective and necessary against tougher competition - Memphis, in particular - but his post-dunk salutes to the crowd haven't always been appreciated by traditionalists.
The theatrical expressions Prince wears after being called for fouls are a by-product of growing up watching his father, former coach John Prince, show the same incredulous reactions on the side courts.
John Prince was head coach at Jackson State after assistant stints at Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Colorado State, Memphis and Alabama-Birmingham.
"People can think what they want and are entitled to their opinions,'' Prince said. "I'm going to play hard and go at it the best way I know, regardless.''
Pearl has accepted Prince for what and who he is, on and off the court.
"J.P. just says to me, 'Coach, I got this,' '' Pearl said. "And you know what? I trust him, and I have confidence in him.''