For Roy Williams to sit back and watch a 7-footer run the floor on him all day, it must have felt like unforeseen karma.
And while Indiana center Cody Zeller, whose older brother, Tyler, got behind defenses in similar fashion at North Carolina, was busy mopping the floor with a new batch of Tar Heels, the nation was intently watching. The Hoosiers’ dispensed of North Carolina, 83-59, in Tuesday’s marquee matchup in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
As ESPN teased the game earlier in the night, the obvious storyline arose: Zeller vs. James Michael McAdoo, college stars and future pros.
On a night of college basketball that featured three top 10 quality NBA draft picks, it was the athleticism and relentlessness of Indiana’s sophomore center that stole the show. He scored the game’s first basket on an abusive pump fake and baby hook. He scored in transition. He scored on putback jams. Zeller finished the night with 20 points and nine rebounds, outplaying McAdoo (10 points, nine rebounds) in the Hoosiers’ Assembly Hall.
Of course, Zeller’s performance was only a microcosm of the top-ranked team’s Tuesday performance. Indiana out-rebounded the Tar Heels, took more efficient shots and defended ruthlessly. If this is an early result of Tom Crean’s renovation in Bloomington, the architect is a fast worker.
Funny how a next-level talent can help expedite such results.
The Big Ten entered Tuesday with five AP top-25 teams — three of the top five — and was quick to make the “We Are The Nation’s Best Conference” claim. No other conference has two teams among the top 15 teams.
By taking an early 4-2 lead in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (with more favorable matchups for the Midwest league due up) the depth is there, too, with teams like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois rounding out the conference’s NCAA tourney-quality pool.
Basically, the Big Ten has become the Big East of the recent past — laughable on the gridiron, impressive on the court.
THIS WILL BE FUN
While the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry meant practically nothing outside of bragging rights in football, the basketball version will be the premier ticket in town this season. Twice. The two classic rivals are the Nos. 3 and 5 teams, respectively, in the nation right now.
The leading men? Trey Burke and Aaron Craft.
Craft is the quintessential gritty point guard, one that does all the little things to help his team win (especially on defense), even making our Preseason All-American team, but he’s got his hands full with Burke, who has exploded out of the gate this season. Michigan’s diminutive leader has scored in double digits in every game this season (16.4 points per game), but his performance against No. 18 N.C. State — a team everyone raved about before the season kicked off — solidified his efforts.
He scored 18 points and added 11 assists.
The Wolverines are a well-rounded, well-coached bunch, and they’ll go as far as Burke can take them. Right now, that looks pretty far.
Perhaps the only point guard that can shut him down? Craft.
Keep your DVR open come January 13.