Indiana’s Cody Zeller faces a task he can’t do alone

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I don’t envy Cody Zeller. Not for the next few years at least.

Indiana’s prize freshman is expected to be the building block upon which Tom Crean ensures Hoosiers hoops rises from the dregs of NCAA sanctions to Final Four contenders. (Better happen soon, too, or Crean might not be around much longer.) He’s a local product, has size, skill and a work ethic to match. Onlookers know he’s capable of big things given how well his brother, Tyler, has performed for UNC.

But what happens if he’s not the savior a hoops-mad state is craving?

Zeller knows it’s coming. He’s known for years and has prepared himself. But there’s only so much he can do before everything hits. The games will begin soon. And no matter how well he plays, if Indiana continues to struggle, people will judge Zeller.

This is the ultimate win-or-nothing scenario. I wish the kid luck.

If there’s an positive note in all of this, his teammates and coaches are doing their best to help him any way they can – because they know he’s always helping them. From a Bob Kravitz column in the Indianapolis Star:

The kid is The Package. Size, strength, athleticism, basketball IQ, all the right stuff. His presence will completely change the geometry of the IU attack both offensively and defensively. For the first time since coach Tom Crean took over, he has a post presence, which only changes everything.

“Cody makes it easier for everybody else,” Crean said Thursday at Big Ten media day in Rosemont, Ill. “We knew this when we recruited him. You can go at him and give him the ball and something can happen, or you can play through him, and that’s what our team has got to learn to do right now.

“And so he’s been a joy to have. I think his teammates really enjoying playing with him. And again, he truly makes the game easier because he passes the ball. He rebounds the ball. He understands what the other guys need to do, and they’re learning how to play with him.”

Better learn quickly. Yet another trying Big Ten season awaits.

Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State all figure to finish ahead of the Hoosiers. Perhaps Minnesota and Illinois will too. This won’t stand much longer in Indiana. Yes, more talent’s arriving soon, and in a big way. But Indiana’s craving hoops success. It knows what it tastes like and has been without it long enough. By the time he’s a junior, it’ll be Big Ten title or bust. At the least.

This is what’s on Zeller’s shoulders. Hope they’re broad enough to handle it all.

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