Victor Oladipo might get the headlines, but Cody Zeller holds the key to the Indiana Hoosiers' chances of winning a national title.
Zeller is the leading scorer (16.9 PPG) and rebounder (8.2 RPG) for the Hoosiers. He has been overshadowed, and rightfully so, by the play of Oladipo. The junior guard has been fantastic this season on both ends of the court. He's electrified with some highlight dunks, but more importantly, Oladipo has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the country.
There's no question that many of Indiana's fortunes hinge on Oladipo. If the Hoosiers want to make a deep run, though, the play of Zeller is much more important.
At his best, Zeller can be a dominant post player for whom opposing teams simply have no answer. That's a huge luxury to have in the NCAA Tournament. The number of quality big men across the country is scarce, so few teams have the kind of presence in the post who can matchup well with Zeller when he's on his best day.
Despite not being the most athletic, Zeller is more than capable of having his way underneath the basket. The better he plays, the more defenses try to collapse around him. Then Zeller can help to get the ball out to three-point shooters like Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford. While Zeller has received plenty of attention in the race for various player of the year awards, his play in the post can sometimes be underappreciated.
Conversely, the knives are always quick to come out when Zeller struggles.
When Zeller does have trouble, it's pretty much apparent to all those watching the game. This was no more apparent than in the Hoosiers' losses on the road to the Illinois Fighting Illini. In the two defeats, Zeller made a total of six shots and scored a 23 points. Even more importantly, it was Zeller who lost track of Tyler Griffey on the inbound pass near the end of the game, allowing Griffey to score the winning basket.
Indiana's game against the Michigan Wolverines is a perfect microcosm of the Zeller/Oladipo dynamic. The entire pregame hype had been build around the matchup of Oladipo and Trey Burke. Both looked to be favorites to take home all of the postseason awards, with this game going a long way toward building or destroying each player's case.
Oladipo did a good job of corralling Burke, holding him to 7-of-20 shooting. Oladipo also added 14 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
It was Zeller, though, who had the standout performance. While everybody was determining who had the edge between Oladipo and Burke, Zeller had a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Although Oladipo gets the plaudits, it's Zeller who does the heavy lifting.