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Indiana University

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Hoosier stars in fight to be nation’s best

– As Indiana makes a push for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the No. 1 Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2 Big Ten) also have two players pushing to be named the No. 1 player in college basketball this season.

Indiana guard Victor Oladipo and forward Cody Zeller are in contention to be named player of the year.

Oladipo, a 6-foot-5 junior, and Zeller, a 7-foot sophomore, were both named to the 12-player midseason Oscar Robinson Trophy watch list, and they could both appear on the 30-player Naismith Award watch list when it is released Tuesday. Zeller was one of 25 players to the midseason Wooden Award watch list.

Oladipo and Zeller are also in the top six in ESPN.com?s straw poll for player of year.

Oladipo, who started appearing as a candidate two weeks ago, is trailing only Michigan?s Trey Burke in the poll composed of voters for The Associated Press, Naismith, Robertson and Wooden awards. Zeller, the preseason player of the year, is sixth in the poll.

?Cody is not just a scorer, he?s constantly improving,? Indiana coach Tom Crean said.

?Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don?t. Eventually, we won?t even see all of his improvement. His next coach will, just like Victor?s. They just get better and better.?

Oladipo and Zeller both reached 1,000 points for their careers in the Hoosiers? last game, a 72-68 victory over No. 4 Michigan State on Tuesday.

Zeller hit 1,000 with a jumper in the first half, and Oladipo reached the mark with his putback with 43 seconds left in the game that gave the Hoosiers the lead for good over the Spartans.

Indiana?s next game is at Minnesota (18-9, 6-8) on Tuesday.

The only thing surprising about Zeller reaching 1,000 points was how quickly it happened. He came to IU as one of the top-rated players last season, and after averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds as a freshman, he has kept pace this year with 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Oladipo?s rise to prominence has been surprising. The product of DeMatha High School in Maryland didn?t come in as highly regarded as Zeller, and he averaged 7.4 points and 10.8 points his first two seasons.

Oladipo is Indiana?s second-leading scorer this year, averaging 14 points, and he is often charged with defending the opposing team?s best offensive player. Oladipo has a team-high 64 steals.

?He?s got a great motor whether he?s shooting around after practice or down the stretch. He?s always going the same speed, game speed,? Zeller said of Oladipo. ?He hates to lose. He?s a competitor. It?s a ton of fun to play with him because he has that winning edge.?

Oladipo is also the first player that opposing Big Ten coaches mention when asked what has made Indiana harder to play this season.

?Oladipo makes them better,? Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after Tuesday?s game. ?They?ve got a lot of weapons, and they?ve got more experience. Zeller is still a good player, but Oladipo is just a refuse-to-lose guy.?

tkrausz@jg.net

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