When it comes to expectations in sports it is often hard to truly live up to, if not exceed, those expectations.
That doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to be nowhere near where many analysts and fans expected you to be.
Indiana’s Cody Zeller is falling short of expectations. Before all of you Indiana faithful go crazy take a moment to rationally think about this time last year and how consistently well Zeller was playing in addition to the added momentum Indiana had as a program back on the rise. Zeller is indeed a stud and is top five in his position hands down.
But, wait a minute; top five in his position?
Wasn’t this guy supposed to be the undisputed national player of the year? As far as I can recall, yes. But he isn’t even in the top 50, statistically, in rebounds and points per game. I’m aware there are a lot more division one basketball teams making the range a lot more broad for some mid-major stand out to get in there by running up the score on a bunch of cupcake squads from the Northwestern-Southern-Bell-Hope-Of-America conference.
Ok, that conference doesn’t exist. The point is, I suppose there is a logical reason, based on the amount of division one players, why Zeller wouldn’t be in the top 50.
Then again, no, no there really isn’t a logical reason. Based on the expectations and standards most Hoosier fans place on Zeller there is absolutely no reason why Zeller should have some of these games where he only shoots six times from the field. It’s not dominant when you’re grabbing 10 of your 14 or 16 points per game at the free throw line.
There are two things Zeller does well; He runs the floor better than any big man in the country and he is a presence on second chance points by way of tip-ins that is hard to contest. But there is no killer instinct what-so-ever. There is no demand for the basketball unless Tom Crean puts in an offensive scheme to feed Zeller all night long. Late in close games it is a 50-50 split between Zeller and Crean as to why he practically disappears.
If I was writing about the Perennial Naismath and Wooden winner for national player of the year there wouldn’t be a section of the article where there are issues in the player’s killer instincts to demand for the ball and get his own at will while being a game changer for his team when it mattered most.
That’s because Cody Zeller is not the best player in college basketball. In fact, he isn’t even the best player on his team. Victor Oladipo has more of an NBA-ready skill set than Zeller, he makes big plays in big games and is easily the best defensive player in the BIG 10 and certainly top five in the country. Oladipo attacks the basket, shoots from the perimeter and even though Zeller does make good plays on second chance points there is nobody else on the floor that flies around the basket on offense like Oladipo. But the most NBA-ready thing Oladipo has is his ability to go at defenders on a drive regardless of a size mismatch and over power them on the way to a high rising dunk with his athleticism and strength.
Cody Zeller may be somewhere between the 11th and 15th best player in the country. That is still impressive, but, that is not national player of the year worthy. As far as the NBA, Zeller needs to continue to get bigger and more aggressive using his body and his strength in the paint. He needs to develop a short jumper like Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol and Kevin Garnett to pose more of a threat from the block and in the post while having the ability to make plays from the elbow. He is not a lottery pick either, and as long as he continues to take a back seat in big games and lack the consistency day in and day out as dominant presence on the floor I don’t know how anyone can make a case that he should be taken in the top 12 picks of the NBA draft.
Cody Zeller, regardless of this season’s outcome in the tournament, should return to Indiana for one more season and dominate the way everyone expects him to.
Indiana, his skill set and his bank account would greatly appreciate it.