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.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:37 AM EDT
The label of “best coach yet to reach a Final Four” will remain Miller’s for another offseason, whether that’s fair or not.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:50 AM EDT
The Big Ten champion and SEC champion move on to Indy.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
The Wildcats knocked off a tough Notre Dame team.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Dekker scored 20 of his 27 points in the second half at Wisconsin beat Arizona in the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:34 PM EDT
Frank got a little funky after Wisconsin’s win over Arizona.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:27 PM EDT
This is too funny.
Mar 28, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Barnes coached at Texas for 17 seasons.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
So Andrew Harrison was a grown man in middle school?
Arrests made as Michigan State fans gather, set fires near off-campus apartments after Sweet 16 win (VIDEO)
Mar 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Some Michigan State students got a little too rowdy following a win over Oklahoma.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
The Citadel hired away the head coach of a Southern Conference rival.
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey on college hoops: ‘It’s absolute torture watching some of these games’ (AUDIO)
Mar 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had some strong words on the current state of college basketball.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Frank Kaminsky’s path to stardom may not follow that of last year’s national Player of the Year winner, Doug McDermott, but it’s one that many players hope to navigate during their own time in school.
Tom Izzo blames himself, new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart movie on Michigan State’s sluggish Sweet 16 start
Mar 28, 2015, 10:55 AM EDT
Michigan State might have been the only people in the country watching “Get Hard” on Friday afternoon.
Former oddsmaker believes Kentucky would be underdog against all-time great college basketball teams
Mar 28, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Kentucky might finish the 2014-15 season unblemished, but how do they stack up against some of the best teams in college basketball history?
Mar 28, 2015, 12:52 AM EDT
Get caught up on all of Friday’s NCAA tournament action.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:27 AM EDT
The schedule for Sunday’s Elite 8 games.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:23 AM EDT
Second straight Elite 8 appearance for Tom Izzo and Co.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT
No. 1 Duke advanced to the Elite 8 with a win in the South Regional over No. 5 Utah.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT
This is a pretty nice move from Amile Jefferson.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Wardle spent five seasons as coach at Green Bay.
- No. 2 Arizona, Sean Miller’s quest to reach Final Four once again falls short 0
- Andrew Harrison’s late free throws send No. 1 Kentucky to the Final Four 46
- Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky catch fire as No. 1 Wisconsin beats No. 2 Arizona 7
- Rick Barnes is no longer the head coach at Texas 11
- Frank Kaminsky’s growth results in individual and team benefits for No. 1 Wisconsin 3
- Tourney Snacks: Duke-Gonzaga, Louisville-Michigan State advance to Elite 8 11
- No. 1 Duke advances to Elite 8 with win over No. 5 Utah 2
- Andrew Harrison’s late free throws send No. 1 Kentucky to the Final Four (45)
- Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close (36)
- Kentucky responds to Daxter Miles Jr.’s pregame comments (30)
- Updated tournament records: Big Ten, SEC champions headed to Indy (25)
- West Virginia freshman on Kentucky: ‘They’re going to be 36-1′ (20)