Michigan State v Indiana

How concerned should Indiana be about Cody Zeller’s struggles?

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Jeff Goodman brought up an interesting point with his column from the Indiana-Michigan State game on Sunday (and it makes this column from November look prescient):

[T]here is room for improvement. Think about it. If Indiana is this good with Zeller still not consistently showing his best, think of how dangerous it will be once he starts performing like a player-of-the-year candidate.

Indiana has looked like the best team in the Big Ten, a top five team and a national title contender all while the Preseason National Player of the Year has looked, well, normal. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 8.2 boards, yes, but I think even Indiana fans will admit that Zeller hasn’t looked the part yet this season. He hasn’t even been his team’s MVP this season; that award goes to Victor Oladipo.

A major reason for that is because he’s a team player, a kid that cares less about his stats and more about his team’s wins. And that’s why I tend to disagree with Goodman here, althought it’s more semantics than anything.

I don’t think Zeller needs to dominate for Indiana to win, especially not on the nights where Oladipo is playing well and guys like Jordy Hulls, Christian Watford and company are knocking down shots.

Where Indiana needs Zeller is to dominate is in crunch time. Where they need him to be his best is down the stretch. There’s too much talent on Indiana for Zeller to have to carry the load for 40 minutes every night. But he is their most dangerous offensive weapon, when means that he needs to be able to be relied upon for a big bucket during a close game. With IU’s backloaded league schedule, particularly in road games, that will come into play ever more.

Sunday was a great example. For the second straight game, Zeller struggled offensively. But he got the biggest basket of the game — a driving layup with 1:39 left to put Indiana up by four — and then came up with the game-clinching charge with 14 seconds left.

At the risk of cherry-picking, the best half of basketball that Zeller has played this year came in the first 20 minutes against Wisconsin. The Hoosiers lost that game when Zeller did a disappearing act in the second half.

Zeller is 2-11 from the field in his last two games. There’s no question that he needs to be better than that for Indiana to survive, especially with the rough road they have ahead.

But they also don’t need him to averaged 20 points and 12 boards or play like the National Player of the Year. He can be the best player on the team without being a force-fed centerpiece.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

How did Gary Clark catch that alley-oop?

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 24:  Gary Clark #11 of the Cincinnati Bearcats shoots the ball against the Tulane Green Wave at Fifth Third Arena on January 24, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 15 Cincinnati pounced on Memphis from the start, taking a 51-32 lead into halftime.

Then, Gary Clark decided to add insult to injury to start the second half. Seriously, how did he catch that?

Mick Cronin’s team is much better offensively than in previous seasons. I’m sure fans in the Fifth Third Arena can get used to seeing more plays like this.

Cassius Winston ends half with half-court 3-pointer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans talks with Cassius Winston #5 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Michigan State freshman guard Cassius Winston had just one field goal in the first half. And it was a half-court buzzer-beater as the Spartans capped a sizable run to take a 49-31 lead over Nebraska going into the break.

The Spartans ended the half on a 21-5 run.

Winston provided a serious boost off the bench during that stanza. Moments earlier, he helped the Breslin Center erupt when he lobbed a pass off the backboard to teammate Miles Bridges.

Michigan State opened the day projected as one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The margin for error is thing and it appears the Spartans are playing with a sense of urgency.

 

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus recaps Wednesday’s games

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 22: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks lays the ball up against JD Miller #15 and Jaylen Fisher #0 of the TCU Horned Frogs in the first half at Allen Fieldhouse on February 22, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Wednesday’s slate of games had several wild results.

Former Ohio State walk-on turned blogger turned author Mark Titus, who is currently writing for The Ringer, joined Rob Dauster on the latest episode of the CBT Podcast to go over last night’s games. The two also discussed who is the best team in the nation at the moment, as well Frank Mason III’s rap single from several years ago #BIFM

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Roy Williams apologizes to Rick Pitino, hopes that never happens at UNC again

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates after his 800th career victory with a 85-68 win over the Syracuse Orange at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina’s Roy Williams called fellow Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino to apologize for a fan’s behavior during Wednesday night’s game in Chapel Hill.

While leaving the floor at halftime, Pitino had to be restrained by members of the Louisville coaching staff and he and a UNC fan exchanged words as he made his way to the locker rom. There’s video of Pitino pointing and shouting at a fan, who reportedly said, “Pitino, you suck!”

“I don’t like that,” Williams said, according to the Charlotte Observer. “I mean we’re in North Carolina. We don’t have to be like everybody else. We can raise Cain. You can boo, but you don’t have to say the stuff that we as coaches have to put up with.”

“I hope that never happens at North Carolina ever again.”

No. 8 North Carolina defeated No. 7 Louisville, 74-63.

Bubble Banter: It’s a quiet night on the bubble

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Miles Bridges #22 reacts after being taken out of the game by head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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STILL TO PLAY

Georgia at Alabama (RPI: 68, KenPom: 61, next four teams), 7:00 p.m.

Nebraska at Michigan State (RPI: 43, KenPom: 55, No. 10 seed), 7:00 p.m.

Towson at UNC Wilmington (RPI: 41, KenPom: 57, No. 12 seed), 7:00 p.m.