Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Hoosiers Won’t Look Ahead; Zeller Wins Again
Parity is everywhere you look in the Big Ten these days. Even mighty Ohio State, which has as much talent as any team in the country not named Kentucky, had its 39-game home winning streak snapped by surging Michigan State.
Still, the Hoosiers look to make a move with a favorable schedule and improving play. They are 19-6 and ranked No. 18 in the AP poll, No. 20 in the coaches’ poll. They’ve won two straight and look to sweep the week with games against Northwestern and Iowa in the next six days.
Coach Tom Crean, during Monday’s Big Ten teleconference, expressed the hope that even while Michigan State and Ohio State dominate national attention, that the performance of teams such as Michigan, Wisconsin, IU and, heck, the entire conference, don’t get overlooked.
“It’s important that all the teams get a tremendous amount of noterity for what we’re doing inside of this league,” Crean said. “What happens is one or two teams can jump out instead of focusing on how good this league is.
“There’s unique preparation every time you play. If there’s a league that prepares you any better for the NCAA Tournament, other than the Big Ten, I haven’t seen it. You’ll be in battles. There are excellent coaches and players. There are proven systems.
“If you get ahead of yourself and start thinking down the road, it can go away on you quickly.”
Crean has no intention of letting his Hoosiers look ahead. They’ve worked too hard and accomplished too much.
It starts all over again Wednesday, with Northwestern.
Forget, for just a second, the six Big Ten freshman-of-the-year honors Cody Zeller has earned.
What makes this 6-11 forward special is that he wins. He doesn’t lose his cool. He doesn’t get rattled.
For instance, Zeller has a 3-1 record -– okay, IU has a 3-1 record, but work with us here –- against the three best inside players he’s faced. He’s 1-1 against Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. He’s 1-0 against Illinois’ Meyers Leonard and 1-0 against Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.
A cocky player might boast about that. Zeller downplays it.
Take, for instance, after he out-played Leonard last week. He had 22 points and five rebounds to Leonard’s 17 points and three rebounds. Leonard only had two second-half points. Zeller had 14.
“They’re all really good bigs,” he said. “They’ll all be pros one day. I just take it one game at a time whether I’m playing Meyers Leonard or any other big.”
An inquiring mind wanted to know whether Zeller thought he had gotten into Leonard’s head. Zeller deflected it with a smile.
“I don’t know. I knew he was in foul trouble, so we wanted to attack him. I wasn’t trying to (get into his head) or anything.”
At one point in the Illinois game, Leonard knocked Zeller down. During Crean’s Monday night radio show he said IU officials asked if the Big Ten would review that play. They declined. Crean said he wasn’t complaining about the officials, and that if he has an issue, he brings it to the league’s attention and lets it go.
As far as Zeller winning a sixth Big Ten freshman award, more than any other league player this season, Crean was pumped.
“We’re proud for Cody,” he said. “He deserves any accolades he gets. He never puts himself in center of that. He’s a very humble person. He’ll be the least excited to be freshman of the week in the program, and that’s probably why he gets that award so many different times and why he impacts our team and the game in so many different ways.
“He does what it takes to win. He’s improving constantly. He’s getting better as a defender. He’s an excellent passer. What he’s shown, especially lately when people try to have a game plan of being physical with him and going at him, that just makes him respond so much better. I’m excited for way he impacts our team.”