UNC Basketball: Tar Heels' Tyler Zeller States Case for ACC Player of the Year

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 11:  Tyler Zeller #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks to shoot over Adreian Payne #5 of the Michigan State Spartans in the first half during the NCAA men's college basketball Carrier Classic aboard the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on November 11, 2011 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After an outstanding senior night in Chapel Hill, Tyler Zeller has become the top candidate for the 2012 ACC Player of the Year honors. It will be a tight race between Zeller and Virginia Cavaliers' Mike Scott, but 'Z made a pretty solid case for himself, on Wednesday night in the Tar Heels' win over the Maryland Terrapins.

Carolina should have blown away Maryland in the seniors' final game at the Dean Dome. The Terps turned the ball over 17 times, but the Heels just couldn't capitalize due to a poor shooting performance. Everyone was struggling with their shot—except John Henson and Tyler Zeller. The pair accounted for 49 of North Carolina's 88 points on the night.

As for the POY candidate Zeller, 30 of those points were his. It wasn't just about the points, though. He snagged eight rebounds—six on the offensive glass—along with two steals and three blocks.

I'm sorry. Did I mention that was in 27 minutes of play?

Tyler Zeller was pulled with 6:39 left in the game. Holding a comfortable 74-46 lead, Roy Williams decided it was time to put the workhorse back in the stable. No need to take any chances in a blow-out.

Before he was yanked, Zeller had dominated the paint and helped Carolina stay in the bonus for most of the game. He sank 20 of his 23 free throws for a Dean Dome record—previously held by Tyler Hansbrough with 17 made free throws. Zeller fell just shy of the all-time record of 21—held by York Larese—and of Lennie Rosenbluth's free throw attempts record of 24.

It was a signature night for 'Z.

If UVA's Scott gets ACC Player of the Year, I will not argue—at least not too hard. Scott has been stellar this year for the Cavaliers and is very deserving of the honor. In ACC play, the two forwards have dominated the game and are very close in their major statistical categories. Zeller has the edge in most of them, but not by much.


Let's break it down.

In 15 ACC games—according to the ACC's website—Scott and Zeller are tied for 2nd in scoring with an 18.5 points per game. Zeller is also 2nd in rebounding—behind Henson—with 9.7 per game. Scott sits at 10th in the ACC with a 7.5 average.

As for field goal percentage, Zeller and Scott are first and second respectively. Zeller has knocked down 55.3 percent of his shots, while Scott has made 54.7 percent of his attempts. Of the categories Scott didn't crack the ACC top ten, Zeller is 5th in blocked shots with an even two per game and leads the ACC with 4.1 offensive rebounds per game.

Going by statistics alone, Zeller appears to have the edge over Virgina's Scott in the race for ACC POY. There is still one more game for 'Z to make his mark. North Carolina will face Duke Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. This will not only be for bragging rights, but for the 2011-12 ACC regular season title. A win for the Tar Heels and a strong performance from Zeller should seal the deal. If awarded, Carolina would tie Duke for the most ACC Players of the Year with 14.

Though Tar Heels Nation would love to see Zeller get the award, he isn't as worried about it. As quoted by Inside Carolina's Greg Barnes.

“If I won it, it would be a great award, don’t get me wrong. But that’s an individual award, so it’s right at the bottom of the list because it’s is a team sport. If I go out and score 30 points, great. But if I go out and score 10 points and we win, that’s great, too. I’m just trying to win games and if it comes out that I win it that would be incredible and I’d love it, but you have to focus on the team before you focus on yourself.”

It's hard not to love that attitude. And it's just as hard not to love Zeller's game.