FORT WAYNE – The Big Handsome left a big handsome door wide open, vanishing like that. Two points and eight boards? At home? Against winless-in-the-Big Ten Penn State?
And so Wednesday night the door swung open and in wafted a hint of unease – because, listen, there is always unease when youve gone from bad to really good in the space of two years. There stood BH, aka Cody Zeller, allegedly unmasked. Eyebrows were hoisted, brows were furrowed, media types did what media types do.
Cody did a lot of other things to impact the game and thats why hes such a great player, Victor Oladipo said when asked about Zellers off game. He might be having a slow night on offense, but hes doing what it takes to win.
I guess that makes this as good a place as any to point out that, despite Zellers two-and-eight night, the Hoosiers mulched the Nittany Lions, um, 72-49.
And that, um, Zellers two-and-eight game was preceded by 21 and 13 against Northwestern, 23 and 10 against Wisconsin and 19 and 10 against Iowa, three double-doubles in a five-game span.
And that even though it doesnt always seem so, all of Zellers numbers are up from a year ago. Going into Indianas latest Big Ten showdown – against Michigan State, alone at the top of the conference and brandishing a six-game winning streak – Zeller is averaging 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, is shooting 61 percent from the field, and leads Indiana in blocks with 27 and is second in steals. And, oh, yes, the basketball team whose vibe he projects is, um, 17-2.
In other words: The Big Handsome will be fine, people. And so will Indiana.
Now, I dont know whether the Hoosiers will send Michigan State to the curb with the recycling Sunday, or if, three days later, theyll go to West Lafayette and drop the hammer on 10-9 Purdue. It is Purdue, after all, and it is Mackey Arena. And if going to Assembly Hall is the metaphoric equivalent of crawling 1,000 yards on your belly through barbed wire, then Mackey is the machine gun nest that waits at the end of it.
What I do know is theres not a great deal of import you can attach to it either way, considering what the Big Ten, specifically, and college basketball, generally, has become this year. Import is for March, when all this gets settled. Now is just about getting there.
Indiana will get there, but not likely in one piece. If the Hoosiers survive the Big Ten with fewer than four conference losses, Tom Creans the coach of the year. If anyone in the country comes to March with fewer than three losses, that coach will have to arm-wrestle Crean for the trophy.
Thats because theres parity like never before in college basketball, for a smorgasbord of reasons. The consequence is that being ranked No. 1 is as transient these days as checking a book out of library. You get to keep it for a week or so, and then Miami skewers you by 27 (Yoo-hoo, Duke!) and the library hands it off to the next sap.
And so if youre Crean, you dont talk about Zellers two-and-eight night. You talk about pass deflections and defensive positioning and rebounding. You talk about all those effort deals you can control – because this year especially, you cant control anything else.
Right now, the biggest thing we can work on is making sure that we are getting better as individual defenders, collective defenders, that our rebounding continues to improve, and that we keep turning defense into offense, Crean said the other night. The bottom line is that youve got to be able to defend.
Its a hard league. You dont have the best league in the country on one end of the floor. Youve got to not only be able to score but to guard people in this league.
And whatever happens after that, happens.