BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Top-ranked Indiana has followed a simple formula in each game after its three Big Ten losses, and it has worked every time.
The Hoosiers (24-4, 12-3 Big Ten) get the ball to sophomore center Cody Zeller, who then produces victories. Zeller exploded for 21 points and 13 rebounds at Northwestern, five days after the team lost at Wisconsin. Three days following a last-second loss to Illinois, Zeller scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a win at Ohio State.
So when Zeller was only 2-of-9 for nine points in a 77-73 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday, it’s expected that the Hoosiers will try to get him involved quickly. But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he won’t approach his defense toward Zeller any differently.
“They go to him, they’ve gone to him, they’re going to continue to go to him,” McCaffery said. “He’s a handful. So when you prepare to play Indiana, you’ve got to prepare for him as well as a number of other players. That’s why they’re either first, second or third all year long.”
Zeller notched a career-best 11 field goals against Iowa last year in a 103-89 Indiana win at Assembly Hall. He scored 26 points and missed only one shot, grabbed four rebounds and dished one assist. Zeller scored 15 and pulled down 13 rebounds in a 78-66 loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena last February.
“We’ve got some guys with a little more size than we had last year,” McCaffery said. “That’s a good thing. Hopefully we can stay out of foul trouble because you’re going to have to guard him in the post, in transition and from the perimeter. Very few teams that have really good 7-footers put them in driving positions. That’s where they put him a lot of times. He’s a driver, he’s a post-up player, he’s a runner in transition. Those guys are tough to guard.”
Iowa likely will incorporate a defender-by-committee approach against Zeller, alternating physical 7-footer Adam Woodbury with athletic 6-10 Gabe Olaseni. Power forwards Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe also will get their chances to defend Zeller.
“If you’re going to guard Zeller, you’ve got to run,” McCaffery said. “Fortunately, Gabe and Adam both run. They’re both long, and they both can move their feet. Zeller’s not only talented, but he’s a crafty guy. So you’ve got to really think when you’re guarding him and move your feet or else.
“It’s great to say you’ve got fouls (to give) but those fouls will rack up in a hurry if you’re not thinking and understanding angles of where’s the ball and you’re not running back and you’re not getting to the front when you’re setting ball screens. There’s so many different angles you’ve got to constantly be working.
“Fortunately Basabe has guarded him, McCabe has also guarded him, There’s two other guys we can put there. They have to approach it differently based on the size factor for us. Luckily we have some guys we can put out there and play him.”
Zeller, who stands 7-foot, averages 16.3 points (third in the Big Ten) and 8.2 rebounds (second). He was the preseason national player of the year and leads the Big Ten in free throws made (151) and attempted (199). He shoots 53.6 percent from the floor and 80.4 percent from the free-throw line.
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