The Indiana sophomore forward had nine points (on 2-for-7 shooting) in Sunday’s 75-70 win over Michigan State. That’s seven points below his team-leading average.
Add the two points he had in last Wednesday’s win over Penn State (on 0-for-4 shooting) and you have signs of offensive struggles.
Or do you?
Zeller made a big layup late in the Michigan State win. He also drew a big charge that negated a Spartan basket. He still grabbed seven rebounds. He still drew extra defensive attention that helped free up his teammates. He still ran the court and hustled like few big men can.
“You might say he’s had a bad day or two bad games or whatever,” teammate Victor Oladipo said, “but he’s played phenomenal for us. He’s playing at a high level. We look to him to close out games. He’s 7 feet, but doesn’t play like it. He just has to keep doing that.”
In fact, that late drive and layup started well past the three-point line. Zeller roared to the rim like a point guard to complete the play. In the postgame press conference that drive was described as “freakish” for a guy that big.
“That’s not freakish at all,” Oladipo said. “He does it all the time. We see it every day.”
IU point guard Yogi Ferrell agreed.
“He’s always impacting the game since the day he got here,” Ferrell said. “I was going to try to go to him near the end of the game because he can finish for us.”
In the preseason, Zeller was touted as the national player of the year favorite with a strong shot at being the No. 1 player take in the NBA draft next spring if he gives up his final two years of college eligibility. While Zeller’s stock might have dipped – Creighton’s Doug McDermott has emerged as the favorite in a recent player of the year poll by ESPN.com – he remains a formidable player. He still leads IU in scoring (16.0 points) and rebounds (8.1).
“Cody can do a lot of things,” coach Tom Crean said. “He’s not just an inside player. There are so many areas he’s just scratching the surface. He’s got to talk more, especially on the back line. (Michigan State) got a couple of lobs in the first half where he wasn’t as aware of his teammates as he needed to be.
“When it was winning time, Cody answered the bell. In fact, he rang the bell. When he got that charge and hit that drive and made that play in the heat of the game, that’s where his mental toughness is.
“He’s so non-statistic driven. That’s why he’s such a winner. He does what it takes. He continues to improve. It’s not always as apparent, but he’s getting better.”