Feb 3, 2013, 12:38 AM EDT
Cody Zeller was supposed to be the superstar for this Indiana team.
He was supposed to be the Player of the Year candidate, the all-american who has an offense custom-built to his every post-move; the guy that opposing coaches lost sleep fretting about and spent far too much practice time game-planning for.
Zeller is probably still the most talented player on the Indiana roster. He’s easily the best NBA prospect and his numbers are still pretty impressive. But at this point in the season, he’s probably not even Indiana’s MVP. That award would go to Victor Oladipo.
But I don’t think that matters at all to Zeller, as he has embraced the role that he has to play on this team. And rest assured, Zeller’s become a role-player, and that’s what makes Indiana so good. They are, at heart, a perimeter-oriented team. They have shooters everywhere on the floor. They have a pair of quality ball-handlers. Their MVP’s biggest improvement has been his ability to knock down open threes. Their power forward’s most valuable trait as a player is his ability to spread the floor.
It just so happens that this perimeter-oriented group just so happens to have the nation’s best center in the middle.
Indiana doesn’t need Zeller to make all the plays. They need him to make the winning plays. Like, for example, the two putback dunks he had midway through the second half that pushed Indiana’s lead back to six after Michigan had gotten within 57-55. Or the loose ball that he tracked down with just under two minutes left that saved possession for Indiana when they were up 69-62.
Zeller led the way with 19 points on 8-10 shooting and nine boards in Indiana’s 81-73 win on Saturday night against No. 1 Michigan in Assembly Hall, but he didn’t need a touch on every possession to do it. He capitalized on the opportunities he had and he made the big plays down the stretch.
And thanks to Zeller’s play, for the first time since Feb. 13th, 2008, Indiana is in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings.
And in all likelihood, the Hoosiers will be climbing their way back to the top of the polls come Monday morning after they knocked off Michigan, the current No. 1 team in the country. They may not actually be the best team in the country (ahem, Florida), but polls aren’t exactly the best way to measure the best teams. You’re No. 3 and beat No. 1 on the same day No. 2 loses, you’re moving on up.
It’s far too early in the season to be getting up-in-arms about something as meaningless as national rankings, but Indiana’s placement atop the Big Ten standings is hugely important.
Everyone in the Big Ten has a tough schedule this year, and a number of the marquee games have been backlogged, meaning that the top teams play each other quite a bit over the final month and a half of conference season.
Indiana’s may be the toughest simply because they have yet to play a difficult road game. Five of their last nine games are away from Bloomington. Those five road trips: at Illinois, at No. 11 Ohio State, at No. 13 Michigan State, at No. 23 Minnesota and at No. 1 Michigan. That doesn’t include their home game against the Buckeyes five days before the rematch with the Wolverines.
If the Hoosiers go 4-2 in those six games, I would be impressed. If I was a betting man, I’d be wagering on the Hoosiers going 3-3 during that stretch, point being that Indiana isn’t going to make it through the rest of conference season unscathed. Digging themselves a one game hole behind Michigan — even considering the fact that the Wolverines’ next three games are Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan State — would make an outright title a tough feat to accomplish.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT
Mary Willingham’s lawsuit came to light in early July, with the NCAA deciding to reopen its investigation at around the same time.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
The explosive shooting guard’s new school is located in Napa, California.
Jul 31, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The court will be redesigned by the end of the month.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT
There are three: white, black and grey.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
Blackwell is a member of the Class of 2016 but is already hearing from some notable programs.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Where have all the NYC Point Gods gone?
Jul 31, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Brunson is the father of a top 15 recruit and a potential hire for a program in the AAC.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Wichita State is coming off of a Final Four and an undefeated regular season. What happens if they can’t match that success again?
Jul 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
It’s the second time Hill has donated a million to the school
Jul 31, 2014, 10:50 AM EDT
Mitchell played as well as anyone in the country this July
Jul 31, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT
It’s not that strong, but it could have been much worse.
Jul 30, 2014, 10:32 PM EDT
Walker has spent the last 13 seasons at his alma mater.
Jul 30, 2014, 9:32 PM EDT
The highly athletic wing is back on the market, but he’s yet to be cleared academically.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:17 PM EDT
The Bulldogs succeeded in keeping a talented in-state product home.
Jul 30, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Mayo’s decision means that Marquette has to replace its top four scorers from last season.
Jul 30, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
Just over a month after landing a junior college guard, the Rebels have their second commit in the Class of 2015.
Jul 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
UCLA is holding out hope that John Wooden Court can be salvaged, but if not they’ll have time to replace it.
Jul 30, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT
Larrier is the best recruit that Shaka Smart has landed at VCU.
Jul 30, 2014, 12:51 PM EDT
After averaging 16.0 points per game as a freshman, the South Plains College guard is looking to become a better lead guard as a sophomore.
Jul 30, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT
It’s Dayton’s third commitment from the Class of 2015
- How can Wichita State build on the two best years in program history? 0
- Junior college prospect Andre Spight working to improve point guard skills 0
- Duncan Robinson, of D-III Williams College, considering transfer to Michigan, Davidson 0
- UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion flooded after water main break on Sunset Boulevard (PHOTOS/VIDEOS) 0
- John Calipari’s return to Kentucky ‘solely’ due to loyalty to his players 2
- The other side of the July live period: Recruits continue to strive for attention and offers 0
- Seven takeaways from AAU Nationals and Super Showcase 0
- Marcus Foster still hasn’t forgotten, or forgiven, those pulled scholarships (3)
- Two surprises after first cuts at Team USA U17 trials (3)
- John Calipari’s return to Kentucky ‘solely’ due to loyalty to his players (2)
- Report: Top Oregon recruit denied admission to school (2)
- Xavier’s new court design? Cincy’s skyline, but not chili (PHOTO) (2)