Cody Zeller: ‘I’m not going to have a Tyler moment’

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We all know how good Cody Zeller is and how good he is going to be this season.

There’s a reason that he’s the Preseason Player of the Year according to, well, just about everyone. And he’s the biggest reason that Indiana is the preseason No. 1 team in the country according to those same folks.

So, again, you don’t need me to explain to you just how talented the youngest Zeller is on a basketball court.

What many of us don’t know about Zeller is how he is off the court. And based off of this terrific profile from Matt Crossman of The Sporting News, it seems like Zeller is a pretty terrific kids.

There are two anecdotes in particular that I want to point out:

When Cody Zeller was in high school, his mom worked in the athletic department. He often hid her stapler in the ceiling panels, which he could reach from his tiptoes. He did the same thing with teachers’ lesson plans. He also liked to get to class early and move the clock ahead 10 minutes.

That’s pretty funny. And smart, too, especially if he can convince the teachers to end class 10 minutes early.

This is the one that sticks out to me, however:

Last season, when Tyler Zeller played for North Carolina, Duke’s Austin Rivers hit a last-second 3-pointer to lift Duke over UNC, one of the most dramatic shots in the history of that rivalry. Tyler was criticized for not getting in Rivers’ face to contest the shot.

A few months later, Indiana was in the closing seconds against VCU in the NCAA Tournament. VCU had the ball with a chance to win. In the huddle, as Indiana discussed defensive switches, Cody vowed to be aggressive. “I even told someone, ‘You better believe I’m going to get out. I’m not going to have a Tyler moment.’ ”

When the play started, Cody blitzed a screen and jumped out on the ballhandler at the 3-point line. That forced the VCU player to drive into the lane. He had no chance to shoot over Zeller, so he passed to a man on the wing. He missed the shot, and the Hoosiers won.

He’s not only talented. He understands the game, but he also understands he still has room to grow and improve. He’s willing to learn.

That’s a valuable trait for a player to have.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.