Stats – 15.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, 1.4 steals
Best Game of the Season – vs. Iowa – 26 points (11-12 FG, 4-6 FT), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals
What We Knew – Zeller was, by far, Coach Crean’s biggest recruit to date. As the #15 overall ranked player by rivals.com in the 2011 class, it was clear Zeller was talented. For those who saw him at Washington High School his senior year, you knew Zeller had a special skill set that would fit well with Crean’s system. And as the first true low-post threat Crean had to work with, fans knew that Zeller was going to get ample playing time. What he did with that playing time was up in the air.
At times, the expectations seemed excessive. A freshman who wasn’t even top 10 was looked upon to turn around a prestigious athletic school like IU. I pondered internally how much pressure we were putting on a young man and how we were setting him up for failure. It seemed like too much for someone who didn’t seem to possess a skill set that could dominate a game.
What We Learned – Well, we learned I was dead wrong. From game one, it was clear Zeller was a dominant player. While he didn’t always do it on the score sheet, Zeller always found ways to impact games. Zeller tied with Oladipo for the most steals on the team. He had a nearly identical block total, had five double-doubles over the course of the season, and possibly the best stat, fouled out of exactly one game, a game the Hoosiers still won (vs. Ohio State).
Zeller provided the Hoosiers with something they had lacked for so long: a low-post scorer. Kudos to Tom Pritchard, Derek Elston, and Christian Watford (and an honorable mention to Tijan Jobe), but they weren’t low-post scorers. With Zeller filling in the five role, Pritchard and Elston could come off the bench and weren’t looked to for consistent scoring in the post, which suited each of them well. Zeller blossomed nicely, suffering a couple freshman moments (on the road against Michigan State), but also had his moments of awe thrown in as well (the slam dunk contest against Iowa). In all, Zeller had four games of single digit scoring and seven games of 20+ scoring. As a freshman, what more could you ask?
And none of this even mentions that he was at the forefront of a Hoosier squad that shocked the nation on multiple accounts and made it to the Sweet 16.
What We Expect: It’s hard to pick at things to improve upon for Zeller. He could have gone pro and been a lottery pick. Instead, he is coming back to Bloomington and every student and fan should be ecstatic. However, the improvements will likely be nitpicky, but that’s what you get when you pick apart a future NBA talent.
First, on offense, I’d like to see more jumpers for Zeller. He supposedly has a nice jumper, but we rarely saw it. Too often, he would put his head down and force up an awkward shot. Instead, I’d like to see Zeller face up and knock down that 15-foot jumper to make the defense respect him more.
Defensively, while it’s hard to critique, I’d like to see more of a defensive presence. It’s a double-edged sword,though. More block attempts likely means more fouls, which means less playing time. I don’t expect an Anthony Davis-like defensive presence, but there were many cases of ofers in the block column that you don’t want to see.
Physically, I’d like to see Zeller put on about 15-20 pounds of pure muscle. Obviously, you don’t expect a freshman to be physically ready for the grind of a college basketball season, and I think Zeller did quite well. But the natural process is that Zeller put on weight and bulk up. If he can do so, he can outmuscle his opponents for position in the post and better defend them on the other end.