His older brother, Tyler, played at North Carolina. The whole brothers-playing-together thing was attractive. So was the Tar Heels' powerhouse basketball team that was, during all of Zeller's standout high school career in Indiana, far more successful that the Hoosiers' sanctioned-hindered program.
In the end, Zeller picked the Hoosiers, and it's worked out. He's an All-America sophomore forward on the nation's No. 1 team.
“I have a lot of respect for everything they do,” Zeller said. “Tyler enjoyed his time there. I know a lot of guys there.
“I had confidence in what Coach (Tom) Crean was doing, what the guys here were doing, what the guys coming in would do. Everyone was working hard. They just hadn't quite gotten rolling yet. I thought it was the best place for me.”
Why is this relevant? Because tonight the Hoosiers (6-0) take on No. 14 North Carolina (5-1) in Assembly Hall. The atmosphere could rival that of last year's dramatic victory over then No. 1 Kentucky.
“It will be like Kentucky last year, and might be a little bit better,” guard Remy Abell said. “It's going to be crazy.”
IU (6-0) had just Monday to prepare after Sunday night's 101-53 victory over Ball State. North Carolina has had six days off since crushing Chaminade 112-70 to blast away the sting from the 82-71 Maui Invitational upset loss to Butler.
“I'm glad we're playing (tonight) even though I know our guys are probably a little tired after playing (Sunday) night,” Crean said. “At the same time, there will be a tremendous energy and excitement. Our guys are locked in. That's what's most important.
“It wouldn't matter if we had two days or a week to get ready. When you see Carolina on the floor, it's a whole other level with the way they get up and down the court. We've got to be really good in a lot of facets.”
North Carolina thrives on full-throttle pace. That's fine with the Hoosiers, who aren't interested in working the 35-second shot clock.
“You might want to bring a neck brace,” IU associate head coach Tim Buckley said, “because that ball will be up and down the floor all night. It's going to be a very fast environment.”
How fast? Crean said his Hoosiers have never experienced anything like it before.
“They bring things that not only haven't we seen this year, but I don't think we've seen at any point in time. I don't know that we've ever seen a fast break like we're going to see.”
What makes it special? North Carolina blends speed, athleticism, skill and length. They have nine players 6-5 or taller.
“We've got a lot of different guys who can score,” Crean said. “They have a lot of different guys who can score.
“Our defense will be challenged. There's no doubt about it. We will not be challenged in transition like we will be (tonight). We've gone against some great fast-break teams — Michigan State, last year's Kentucky team. This team is at another level.”
North Carolina might be without swingman P.J. Hairston, who sprained his knee in practice. He averages 10.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. The Tar Heels are led by 6-9 forward James McAdoo, who averages 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. Guard Reggie Bullock averages 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He also shoots 51.6 percent from three-point range.
McAdoo's rebounding has caught Crean's attention.
“McAdoo is as good a rebounder, especially on the offensive end, as we have seen,” Crean said. “They are at a high level. They're deep. They shoot the ball.
“They have a couple of guys in Hairston and Bullock who arguably can shoot with anybody in the country. They have two point guards (Bullock and Dexter Strickland) who can push the ball, drive the lane, and can shoot. They have a good mix of older and younger players. They're coached by a Hall of Famer. You can't take any of that lightly.”
That would be coach Roy Williams, who is 262-69 with two national titles in his 10 years at North Carolina, 680-170 in 25 years overall.
The youthful Tar Heels (one senior, eight freshmen and sophomores) run to set up their three-point shooters. In the last four games they've averaged 26.8 three-point attempts, making 11.3 of them. They also force 18.5 turnovers, but shoot just 58.6 percent on free throws.
North Carolina's length will be a challenge, but no more than what IU experienced in last week's win against Georgetown.
“You've got to play your game, play smart,” Abell said. “Know when to pass; know when to drive. Play with instinct and everything else will take care of itself.”
North Carolina has played one true road game, wining at Long Beach State 78-63 on its way to the Maui Invitational. It has beaten the No. 1 team more times (12) than any school in NCAA history. It has won six national championships, including two in the last seven years.
The Tar Heels average 85.3 points a game. IU averages 88.7 points.
“All five of their guys will run the court on every possession,” Zeller said. “You can't take a play off. You can't celebrate a nice play. You have to get back.
“It's always fun to get up and down, and score a lot of points, but we can't be giving up that many points.”
Up nextTipoff: North Carolina at Indiana, 9:30 p.m. tonight
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