Award Tour: The Struggles of Ranking Cody Zeller

Posted by DCassilo on December 7th, 2012

David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

What do we do about Cody Zeller? That’s what we’re asking after his second game this season with fewer than 10 points. The preseason pick for Player of the Year has simply not been the monster in the middle that was expected, but he hasn’t been a disappointment either. We’ll start with the bad. He’s scored 20 or more points just twice in eight games and is averaging a pedestrian 15 PPG and 7.6 RPG this season. You’ll find about 100 players with numbers like that. Now the good. He’s shooting 63.2 percent from the field and his numbers are almost identical to his stellar freshman season. To be honest though, Zeller is likely staying as high as he is on this list based on expectation. But now we’re giving him one final chance. If he doesn’t break out by the end of December, he’ll be off the top 10 list.


10. Elias Harris – Gonzaga (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 16.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG

Harris has Gonzaga thinking national title. (AP)

As a senior, Harris is finally coming into his own in all areas of the game. That has especially been true for his offense. After a slow start, he’s scored at least 16 points in five of his last six games. As Gonzaga continues to win, his candidacy will pick up steam. This week: December 8 vs. Illinois

9. Isaiah Canaan – Murray State (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 21.4 PGG, 3.7 RPG, 3.9 APG

With one game this past week against an NAIA opponent, Canaan essentially had an off week. His slight fall down the rankings has more to do with the other players on the list than with himself. Canaan’s biggest challenge for the rest of the season will be playing well enough to overshadow his weak competition. This week: December 8 at Evansville

8. C.J. McCollum – Lehigh (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 24.4 PPG, 5.0 RP, 3.2 APG

We’ve said all season that if a player from a conference like the Patriot League is going to win this, he needs to be beyond spectacular. McCollum has been close to that, but performances like the 13 points he put up against Fordham in his last game won’t cut it. Chances are we’ll see another 30-point game from him soon enough, though. This week: December 8 vs. St. Francis (Pa.)

7. Jeff Withey – Kansas (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 14.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 5.7 BPG

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Withey’s game is that for how aggressive he is defensively, he does not foul. In seven games this season, the senior has just six fouls. That’s good for Kansas since it has a much better chance of winning with him on the floor. This week: December 8 vs. Colorado

6. Erick Green – Virginia Tech (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 24.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.4 APG

Green is officially on our radar after scoring 28 points in an upset over Oklahoma State. It’s just an ordinary day for Green, who has scored at least 21 points in every game this season. After averaging 15.6 PPG last season, it’s fair to say that Green might be the most improved player in the country. This week: Dec. 8 at West Virginia, December 10 vs. Mississippi Valley State

5. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 15 PPG, 7.6 RPG

Read the introduction to get the full lowdown on Zeller, but the quick summary is that he has not taken the leap forward that was expected this season. Like the rest of his team, he does what he has to win, but while that might get you an NCAA title, it won’t land you No. 1 on this list. This week: December 8 vs. Central Connecticut State

4. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 2)
2012-13 stats: 21 PPG, 6.5 RPG

After a hot start to the season Thomas has been putting up very average numbers in his last two games. Playing a tough Duke defense followed by a game that was over at tip against Northern Kentucky will do that your stats. Expect Thomas to get back on track to dominate again in one his upcoming games. This week: December 8 vs. Long Beach State, December 12 vs. Savannah State

3. Trey Burke – (Last week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 17 PPG, 7.1 APG

With Zeller, Thomas and Burke all lumped together here, figuring out the Big Ten’s best player will be hard enough, let alone the best in the country. One thing is for certain, though, Burke is without question the best point guard in the country and may very well be on the best team too. Despite having the offense to take over any game, he’s had at least four dimes in every contest. This week: December 8 vs. Arkansas, December 11 vs. Binghamton

2. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 21.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG

McDermott has been on a scoring tear lately.

Let me start by saying, McDermott is a very distant second at this point. He’s on a hot streak as he’s scored at least 21 points in his last five games. Overall, though, his numbers have dipped a bit from last season. This week: December 9 vs. Akron

1. Mason Plumlee – Duke (Last Week – 1)
2012-13 stats: 19.6 PPG, 11 RPG

Plumlee had just one game this past week and put up 18 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes against Delaware. That is more than enough to keep him at No. 1. Putting up strong numbers in easy portions of the schedule is a challenge for some players, but Plumlee did it with no problem. This week: December 8 vs. Temple


5. Indiana vs. Butler – December 15. Butler has made a habit of shocking the country, and what a better time to do it again than against No. 1 Indiana. The in-state battle will be played at a neutral court in Indianapolis. In the middle of it all will be Zeller, who has a close relationship with Brad Stevens and almost committed to Butler.

4. Cincinnati vs. Xavier – December 19. An always-intense rivalry gained national notoriety last season after an ugly brawl erupted between these two teams. Will memories of last year spill over into this year’s match-up? With many players back, the bad blood is there, and we’ll see how those players choose to handle it.

3. Florida at Arizona – December 15. While Arizona still has a road game at Clemson before this, this should be a battle of unbeatens. Neither team has really been tested at this point, so the game should be a good barometer to see how good the Gators and Wildcats are. It will be a classic case of youth (Arizona) vs. experience (Florida).

2. Kansas at Ohio State – December 22. In what should likely be a battle of top 10 teams, this one is a rematch from last year’s Final Four. Kansas won that game by two points, but with a little more experience and talent, the Buckeyes have the edge heading into their battle in December.

1. Kentucky at Louisville – December 29. This one doesn’t look as good as it did a month ago, but that won’t hurt any of the anticipation for it. After being bounced from the Final Four a year ago by the Wildcats, Louisville has revenge and state supremacy on its mind. But it’s also the perfect chance for Kentucky to get its season back on track.


While Rick Majerus coached his final game at Saint Louis, he will always be remembered for his success at Utah. To remember the coaching legend after his death, this week’s video comes from the 1997 season, when Keith Van Horn hit two game-winners to propel the Utes through the WAC tournament. Watch to the very end to see Majerus celebrating.


10. Jordan Adams – UCLA (Last Week – 10)
2012-13 stats: 17.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG

The players on UCLA are finally starting to carve our permanent roles after the team was in a state of flux for the first month of the season. For Adams, that means he is back to being a scorer, as he lit up San Diego State for 23 points in 28 minutes last Saturday. His inability to do much else on the court is why he stays at No. 10. This week: December 8 at Texas

9. Semaj Christon – Xavier (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 15.4 PPG, 6 APG

It looks like Xavier has found yet another gem in Christon. From right there in Cincinnati, the freshman has looked like not only one of the top point guards in his class but also the nation. Christon should leave Xavier one day with a lot of wins under his belt. This week: December 9 vs. Kent State

8. Ben McLemore – Kansas (Last Week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG

After a brief absence, McLemore is back.

After a 1-for-10 stretch over two games from beyond the arc, McLemore regained his shooting touch to go 3-of-4 from long range on his way to 21 points against Oregon State last Friday. He’s the preferred scoring option on a top 10 team in the country. No other freshman can say that. This week: December 8 vs. Colorado

7. Shabazz Muhammad – UCLA (Last Week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 16 PPG, 5.6 RPG

I can’t help but think about Harrison Barnes every time I watch Muhammad. Like the former Tar Heel, Muhammad has put up good numbers as a freshman but nowhere close to what people expected for him. At this point, I can’t tell if its Muhammad’s game or the state of UCLA that is preventing his breakout. This week: December 8 at Texas

6. Jahii Carson – Arizona State (Last Week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 18.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 5.3 APG

It’s one thing to be a great scorer, but Carson is doing it in a very efficient manner for a guard. The freshman is shooting 50 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep and 71.4 percent from the free throw line. Once he cuts back on his 4.1 turnovers per game, he could be the best guard in the Pac-12. This week: December 8 vs. CS Northridge, Dec. 12 vs. DePaul

5. Alex Poythress – Kentucky (Last Week – 5)
2012-13 stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG

Following his three-point dud against Notre Dame, Poythress rebounded with two solid performances. The Wildcat has shot at least 60 percent from the field in six of eight games, which makes you wonder whether Kentucky should be designing more plays for him. This week: December 8 vs. Portland

4. Archie Goodwin – Kentucky (Last Week – 2)
2012-13 stats: 16.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG

With the struggles of Ryan Harrow, Goodwin has been forced to play point guard, and the freshman has been up to the challenge. In his last four games, Goodwin has averaged 5.8 APG. Considering it hasn’t affected his offense either, it looks like a move that could pay huge dividends by season’s end. This week: December 8 vs. Portland

3. Nerlens Noel – Kentucky (Last Week – 3)
2012-13 stats: 11.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.1 BPG, 2.9 SPG

While he hasn’t put together the whole package yet, it seems like Noel has at least one impressive stat each game. This past week it was 16 rebounds against Baylor followed by five blocks against Samford. At the very least, he’s been one of the most exciting players in the country this season. This week: December 8 vs. Portland

2. Anthony Bennett – UNLV (Last Week – 4)
2012-13 stats: 18.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.0 BPG

Bennett has proven to be as reliable as they come so far this season. He’s yet to have a game with fewer than 12 points or six rebounds. His ability to work inside and outside makes him a terror for any defender he goes up against. This week: December 9 at California, December 13 vs. La Verne

1. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last Week – 1)
2012-13 stats: 14.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.7 APG, 2.6 SPG

For the first time this season Smart tasted defeat, but it was through no fault of his. He finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the loss to Virginia Tech. But if there’s been one knock on Smart so far this season, it’s been his shooting. He was 5-of-15 in that game and is shooting just 36.7 percent from the field overall. This week: December 8 vs. Missouri State


5. Larry Shyatt – Wyoming (Last week – NR)
Record: 9-0

In what is shaping up to be perhaps the most competitive year in Mountain West Conference history, Wyoming might be the class of the league. The Cowboys have already beaten Colorado and Illinois State, who nearly beat Louisville. It’s about time Shyatt earned some recognition for the job he’s doing. This week: December 8 vs. Panhandle State

4. James Johnson – Virginia Tech (Last week – NR)
Record: 7-0

In his first year at Virginia Tech, Johnson is doing something Seth Greenberg never did – playing and beating quality non-conference opponents, as evidenced by the win over Oklahoma State. A player’s coach who preaches fun, Johnson’s Hokies are a scoring machine at 86.1 PPG, which is third-best in the country. This week: December 8 at West Virginia, December 10 vs. Mississippi Valley State

3. John Thompson III – Georgetown (Last week – 4)
Record: 6-1

Playing an ugly style of basketball, Georgetown’s only blemish on its record is a loss to No. 1 Indiana. JTIII’s defense has been suffocating in its last three games, as the Hoyas have allowed 42.3 PPG over that span. This week: December 8 vs. Towson, December 10 vs. Longwood

2. John Groce – Illinois (Last week – NR)
Record: 9-0

In his first season at Illinois, Groce has reinvigorated the program. A perfect start and a Maui Invitational title have erased the disappointment of last season’s team. We will find out exactly how good this team is on Saturday when it plays at Gonzaga. This week: December 8 at Gonzaga, December 11 vs. Norfolk State

1. Mike Krzyzewski – Duke (Last week – 1)
Record: 8-0

Not much to add after last week, as a dominating win over Delaware isn’t really going to impress anyone. So instead, I’ll just use this space to point out what a joke it is that Duke isn’t No. 1 in the country. Duke’s top three wins: Ohio State, Louisville and Kentucky. Indiana’s top three wins: Georgetown, North Carolina and North Dakota State. This week: December 8 vs. Temple

DCassilo (19 Posts)

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3 responses to “Award Tour: The Struggles of Ranking Cody Zeller”

  1. Nick says:

    So let me get this straight, Burke might be the best PG in the country, at 17 ppg, 7.1 apg, 2.1 rpg, 1.1 spg, but not Michael Carter-Williams, at 12 ppg, 9.6 apg, 6 rpg, and 3.6 spg?

  2. Matt says:

    Here’s a question. I don’t disagree with you about the pedestrian stats of Zeller. But if you are starting a college basketball team and you are given the choice of
    Zeller, Erik Green, Jeff Withey, CJ McCollom, Isaiah Canaan or Elias Harris, who do you take?

    While many of the others ranked behind him put up stats, I’ll take the all around team game of Zeller. I think you’ve got him right in the right spot right now, even if he doesn’t put up more important stats.

    And while I’m typing, one other thing a critical basketball eye will notice about Zeller and IU. IU is deep. Really deep. They’ve got at least 7 players (probably more) who could score 20 on a given night. All those players need to get their shots to keep team chemistry working. That hurts Zeller’s stats too.

  3. DCassilo says:

    Nick…chose Burke over MCW because he is a better shooter, turns the ball over less and from my impression, is a better leader too.

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