The Indiana Hoosiers will pose plenty of problems for Northwestern when they roll into Evanston Sunday, none bigger than Cody Zeller.
The 7-foot, 240-pound sophomore center stands fourth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 16.9 points and second in rebounding with 7.9 per game. He’s also shooting 63 percent from the field for the second-ranked Hoosiers. Zeller, a preseason All-American, presents a unique challenge for any defense.
"[Zeller]’s a national player of the year candidate, a force down low,” said Northwestern senior Reggie Hearn. “He’s a strong, smart, savvy player on both ends of the court. I'm sure our coaches will give us a great [scouting report], and we'll do what we can to contain him."
Stopping Zeller will take a team effort from Northwestern. He posted 23 points and seven rebounds on the Wildcats last season in the Hoosiers’ 71-66 victory. His skills open things up for talented teammates including Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford who average 13.5 and 12.8 points per game, respectively.
"[Zeller] makes two out of every three shots, he runs up and down,” said Carmody. “Last year we tried to double him and he passed the ball all over the place. He's a very good player on a very good team."
Indiana’s 64-59 loss to unranked conference foes Wisconsin on Tuesday gives the Wildcats a useful reference point for stopping the Hoosiers. While Zeller had 23 points and 10 rebounds, the Badgers limited Indiana’s other scorers and pulled off the upset. Northwestern is taking notice as they gameplan for Tom Crean’s dynamic group.
“They didn’t double team Zeller in the first half and he had 18 points, and then in the second half they doubled him and he only had 4 or 5,” said Carmody. “Then [Wisconsin] made some really tough shots at the end of the clock, they played a heck of a game. You have to, to beat this team."
Hearn noted some fundamental similarities between his team’s mentality and the Hoosiers’. While Northwestern has focused on slowing the game’s pace and Indiana thrives in transition, at their best both teams can make their opponents very uncomfortable.
“They do what we like to do,” he said. “They maintain the tempo that they want, they control the game and play solid defensively. Obviously, that's what it takes to beat Indiana."
With momentum on its side after defeating Illinois Thursday, Northwestern hopes to pull off a second straight tough victory. Deciding how to deal with Zeller is the first step toward that goal.
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