Mikael Hopkins, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller

Cody Zeller’s stats may go down this year, but is that good for IU?

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The way Indiana’s postgame player availability works is that Tom Crean comes in and does his press conference, and when he’s finished talking, the players are brought in and stand off to the side for their interviews.

On Tuesday night, after Jordy Hulls earned MOP of the Legends Classic by scoring 17 points in an 82-72 overtime win over Georgetown in the final, all the cameras and reporters surrounded him. Standing next to Jordy? Cody Zeller, who awkwardly waited with a goofy smile for the stragglers that couldn’t get their cameras or recorders close enough to Hulls.

That’s Preseason Player of the Year Cody Zeller, mind you; the guy that could end up being the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and whose face has been plastered all over college basketball preview magazines. And I can promise you, the man known as “The Big Handsome” didn’t get put on the cover of Sports Illustrated for his dashing good looks.

How often do you think he’s an afterthought in a postgame press conference?

Because that’s exactly what he was on Tuesday.

And that’s the best news that an Indiana fan can hear.

One of the knocks on this Indiana team heading into the season, one of the main reasons that this season has been labeled as ‘not having any dominant teams’, is because of a perceived lack of talent surrounding Zeller. That’s not a shot at guys like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford, but who else on this Indiana roster looks like an NBA player? Kentucky had six of them last season, by comparison. I dedicated an entire column to this back in April.

What the Hoosiers proved at Barclays in winning the Legends Classic, however, is that they do have some other pieces, because they beat Georgia and they beat Georgetown with Zeller looking, well, pretty normal.

To his credit, Zeller’s battling “asthmatic bronchitis or something” and, as he put it, “didn’t get my wind until tonight.” That “asthmatic bronchitis or something” could easily be credited for the six-point, four-rebound performance Zeller turned in on Monday. And while the 17 points and eight boards Zeller had Tuesday looked better in the box score, the Preseason Player of the Year was a long way from dominant. The Hoosiers didn’t look to him on key possessions down the stretch. He finished 4-11 from the floor and did the majority of his scoring at the free throw line.

And that may not be something that changes this season, either.

Because Indiana has enough quality pieces surrounding Zeller that they don’t need him to dominate this season.

“You’ve gotta do what’s required to win,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said after the game. “I think Will Sheehey said it best: everybody did what they do best tonight.”

Indiana is deep. They played nine guys on Tuesday, have a tenth rotation player on the bench that didn’t get into the game and are still waiting for two big men that will see time to get ruled eligible by the NCAA. And while the other eight players that saw time aren’t on the fast track to the first round, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t quality college players. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t fit into what Crean wants to do offensively.

“We keep trying to stress to these guys, it’s not the quantity of your minutes, it’s the quality of your play,” Crean said. “If you’re looking quantity of minutes, we’re not a good program right now. We’ve got too many guys. We really want to keep improving that quality of play. It’s easy to talk about it, it’s harder to do it.”

One of the biggest changes this season is the addition of freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who is another guy that can be relied upon to make a play in a big spot. He hit the dagger on Tuesday, a fadeaway three at the end of a shot clock in with 45 seconds left in overtime to give the Hoosiers a ten point lead. Ferrell was one of five guys in double figures against Georgetown and one of seven guys to score at least six points.

Everything doesn’t have to run through Zeller this season.

He can be just as effective acting as a decoy, freeing up the other weapons on the IU roster, as he can getting 25 post touches a game. Case in point: Indiana shot 34.6% from three before Zeller showed up on campus and knocked down threes at a 43.1% clip during his freshman season.

The point I’m trying to make?

Don’t be surprised to see Zeller’s numbers take a hit this year, and don’t be surprised when Indiana benefits from it.

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

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.