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 10, 2014, 1:16 AM EDT
We know Joel Embiid’s back is bothering him, but should we be worried about whether or not he’ll be healthy for the NCAA tournament?
Mar 10, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
Three more teams earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, Nebraska strengthens its resume and two regular season champions fall in conference tournaments.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT
Catch up on all of today’s bubble action. Is Nebraska a lock after beating Wisconsin? Can St. Joseph’s still dance after losing to La Salle?
Mar 9, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
Picked to finish last in the Big Ten’s preseason poll, Nebraska moved closer to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 with a win over No. 9 Wisconsin.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:26 PM EDT
William & Mary beats Towson, moving to within 40 minutes of their first NCAA tournament berth.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
No. 22 Michigan State’s late-game execution left much to be desired on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT
After winning three straight games Ohio State dropped road games at Penn State and Indiana, falling out of the national polls and finding themselves in danger of not receiving a first-round bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament as a result. The Buckeyes’ game against No. 22 Michigan State was also Senior Day for a…
Mar 9, 2014, 7:38 PM EDT
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Mar 9, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Since joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001 the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens had never made an appearance in the CAA tournament title game. That will change on Monday night, as the top-seeded Fightin’ Blue Hens (24-9, 14-2) beat Northeastern 87-74 in a CAA tournament semifinal on Sunday afternoon. Davon Usher led five players in…
Mar 9, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
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Mar 9, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
The Missouri Valley Conference had an unfortunate mistake in the t-shirts that they gave Wichita State for winning the conference tournament.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:54 PM EDT
Wichita State Shockers will head into the NCAA tournament at 34-0, the first team to be undefeated on Selection Sunday in 23 years.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
The CAA Tournament semifinals will take place on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. Towson and Williams & Mary will tip off at roughly 5:00 p.m. You can watch the game live on NBC Sports Live Extra. The first semi was won by CAA regular season champion Delaware who beat a Northeastern team that can count a win over…
Mar 9, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT
For the first time in what feels like a month, No. 7 Syracuse looked like a team capable of putting together a run to the Final Four. The Orange got 22 points, seven boards and four steals from C.J. Fair as they went into Tallahassee and knocked off Florida State, 74-58. The big news for…
Mar 9, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
Jordair Jett helped snap a three-game losing streak while also delivering Saint Louis the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a last-second win over UMass.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended a fundraiser for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a senator from Kentucky, at Rupp Arena on Thursday. She found time to pay a visit to the Kentucky locker room and snap a photo with a couple members of the team and visit with John Calipari:
Mar 9, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
In recent years the East Division has dominated the MAC, with the last nine winners of the automatic bid coming from that division. But the power was in the West this year, with Western Michigan and Toledo finishing with matching 14-4 conference records. As a result those two get byes to the semifinals, with three-seed…
Mar 9, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
No. 5 Virginia lost their first game since January. Just how concerned should be be about the Cavaliers? Are they still in contention for a No. 1 seed?
Mar 9, 2014, 2:12 PM EDT
Get to know the second entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament field, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Mar 9, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
The CAA Tournament semifinal will take place on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. The first semi will be between CAA regular season champion Delaware and a Northeastern team that can count a win over Georgetown on their resume. You can watch the game live on NBC Sports Live Extra. The first semifinal will tip off at…
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