Indiana's season is in the books, but Hoosiers fans will be keeping a close eye on two players in particular as we approach June. Victor Oladipo, a 6'5" walking highlight reel, figures to go in the top ten along with big man Cody Zeller. Nerlens Noel, injury and all, is still likely to be the first center off of the board, but Zeller won't be far behind in a draft class lacking impact big men.
At 7'0", Zeller made an impression right away as a freshman in 2011/12. The center led the team with 15.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG while shooting 62.3 percent from the floor, the fourth best field goal percentage in the nation. After being named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year and impressing across the board, Zeller would have been a surefire lottery pick. Instead, he chose to came back to IU for a second season. He may not have improved his stock, per se, but it's hard to imagine that it's fallen significantly given the makeup of the 2013 class.
Zeller's return powered Indiana to win the Big Ten title and averaged 16.8 PPG with 8.2 RPG while shooting 57% from the field. He can move on to the NBA knowing that he did a great deal to help his team on the way out, but he's not necessarily leaving on a high note. Syracuse downed Indiana 61-50 on Thursday and a big reason for their W was their ability to take Zeller out of the game. There was no ~60% shooting percentage here as the big man shot just 3-of-11 from the floor. He wasn't stifled by anyone in particular as much as he just seemed overwhelmed by the team pressure the Orange put on him.
Some have slammed his aggressiveness in the wake of last week's tournament exit, but that game wasn't representative of his entire body of work. Zeller definitely has a mean streak and is more than willing to bang with other big men in the paint for loose balls. The shooting performance also wasn't indicative of what he's capable of. Zeller can work well with his back to the basket and has a skillset in that realm that should position him well at the next level.
What hurts him is his play on the other side of the ball. Defensively, Zeller has been able to use his size to frustrate opponents in college. In the NBA, being 7'0" alone won't make you a difference maker. In order to really develop as an all-around player, Zeller will have to – in the words of Hulk Hogan – say his prayers and take his vitamins. If he can't get stronger, then Zeller won't get very far at the next level. That aside, you can still expect Zeller's name to be called in the top ten in this year's draft.