Indiana entered Sunday’s game at Michigan with the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament sewn up and the nets from their regular season title already cut down.
It’s true that they were playing for a chance to win the outright Big Ten title, but whether or not the Hoosiers actually won on Sunday would have no effect on whether or not this team refers to themselves as the 2013 Big Ten regular season champions. Kansas won their ninth straight regular season title in the Big 12, which is a stat that you hear referenced quite often. But do you know how many times his team’s shared that regular season title?
There wasn’t all that much on the line for the Hoosiers: a loss at Michigan doesn’t hurt their chances at a No. 1 seed; pride and a chance to relegate Michigan to a No. 5 seed and a spot in the first round of the Big Ten tournament can only provide so much motivation.
Yet on Sunday, we got a glimpse at the Indiana team we all expected to see this season, as they knocked off Michigan in Crisler Arena 72-71 behind 25 points, 10 boards and a game-winning bucket with 13 seconds left from Cody Zeller.
The Hoosiers pounded the ball inside to Zeller, the consensus National Player of the Year in the preseason that has become the forgotten all-american in Victor Oladipo’s shadow, for 40 minutes. Michigan didn’t bring help for Mitch McGary or Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford until Zeller put the ball on the floor. The thinking? Once Zeller made his move, he wasn’t going to give the ball up. With shooters flooding Indiana’s perimeter, John Beilein was trying to minimize the number of open looks they got.
And here’s the funny thing: it worked. If Christian Watford’s foul on Glenn Robinson III is called a flagrant; if Morgan, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. don’t miss a free throw in the final minute (the latter two missed front-ends); if Morgan’s tip happens to fall through the hoop instead of off the rim, the outcome would have been different.
The Wolverines gave that game away, but it’s a game that Indiana, quite frankly, had no business winning. Michigan hadn’t lost at home this season. But they did lose to Penn State on the road, which was just another example of just how difficult it is to win in an opponent’s building in the Big Ten.
Indiana isn’t supposed to win at Michigan, but they were right there at the end, close enough to strike when the Wolverines made a mistake.
That was the doing of Zeller and his 25 points.
And on Michigan’s final mistake — Trey Burke missing a front-end of a 1-and-1 with 27.2 seconds left — it was Zeller who scored in the paint to give the Hoosiers the win and the outright Big Ten title.
He hasn’t been the focal point that often this season and he certainly hasn’t been this team’s media darling. But he was averaging 16.5 points and 8.0 boards entering Sunday with a 123.7 offensive rating (which is very good) while using 26.0% of Indiana’s possessions when he’s on the floor. Only five players in the country — Trey Burke, Kelly Olynyk, Nate Wolters, and Doug McDermott — are that efficient with a usage rate that high.
Zeller’s still a really, really good basketball player.
Don’t forget it just because he’s not the guy everyone is talking about on this team.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.