Notebook: Zeller struggles, Watford reaches 1,000

Cody Zeller was bound to have one of these nights eventually.

The four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week entered Wednesday night averaging 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds — both leading the Hoosiers — but the Spartans held Zeller in check all night. He finished with four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes — all season-lows.

Welcome to Big Ten basketball.

Part of the issue was the four fouls he picked up, but most of the issue was the Spartan interior.

“They were very physical,” head coach Tom Crean said of MSU. “He’s not used to dealing with people that have that kind of size. The physical strength and weight they have at Michigan State, they’re a very physical team. … He’ll learn from it.”

Zeller will have to learn that everyone in the Big Ten is physical. Junior guard Jordan Hulls was confident Zeller would be able to move forward from the loss.

“The Big Ten is very physical,” Hulls said. “Things are going to happen. They know our gameplan really well, we know their gameplan really well. It’s just a learning experience. He’s going to learn. He’s fine.”

RUNNING AND GUNNING

They say basketball is a game of runs. Wednesday night’s game saw two of the bigger runs you’ll ever see in a Big Ten game.

From 4:48 left in the first half to 14:49 left in the second, the Hoosiers went on a 25-2 run, turning a 34-16 deficit into a 41-36 lead.

But after Indiana took a 54-45 lead, the Spartans went on a 20-0 run in just over six minutes, grabbing a double-digit lead. They finished the game on a 35-11 run.

“It’s just Big Ten basketball,” junior forward Christian Watford said. “ I knew coming in, being a veteran guy, I kind of expected those things. It’s a learning process. We’re going to move forward from it. … We just didn’t get enough defensive stops and it led to some easy buckets for them, and once they got rolling, it was kind of hard to stop them.”

NOT FINDING THE LINE 

MSU coach Tom Izzo said the Spartans’ No. 1 goal on the night was to defend without fouling, and they did just that, giving Indiana just nine free-throw attempts, five of which were made.

The Hoosiers entered the night as one of the best teams in the country at getting to the free-throw line, but the Spartan defense, and the officials, made it difficult.

“Not getting to the free-throw line is a problem for us,” Crean said. “Not getting enough drives to the hoop.”

1,000 FOR WATFORD

Along with leading the Hoosiers with season-highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds (tie), Watford eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career. Watford currently leads Big Ten juniors in career scoring.

“It means a lot to me, it means a lot to our program,” Watford said. “But I can’t really enjoy that at a moment like this.”

Chris Vannini is a freelance sports journalist in Michigan who has covered Michigan State athletics and the Detroit Tigers over the past four years. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini and contact him at chrisvannini@gmail.com.

  • Anonymous

    @Southport..I think the frustration is HOW they lost. Crean had to know what a locked down half court off Izzo would demand..yet IU couldn’t run a half court offense for spit. Against the cupcakes they can..against the good teams they don’t.(for the past 3 years..half court has been a problem). This group has the talent to get it done..the schemes were weak and they had no answers for the MSU defense Unacceptable. Not to say they didn’t make the effort but the plan / execution was not there.

  • Anonymous

    I think we’ve been a little spoiled by the first 12 games.  Dude’s a freshman in his first conference game against one of the strongest front lines in the country coached by one of the best defensive-minded coaches in college basketball.  I’d hardly say he didn’t “want” the ball.  Was it the worst game of his young career?  Absolutely.  Was he trying?  Absolutely.  Will it happen again?  I hope not, but he’s got Jared Sullinger in two days so it’s completely possible but I’m fairly confident he’ll be busting his ass to do as well as possible.

  • Anonymous

    Elston’s peripheral vision is probably affected which doesn’t help when he’ trying to play defense.  I know he wasn’t great but I’ve seen a lot of guys play with the mask and it usually takes them a game or two to adjust to it.

  • Anonymous

    Elston’s peripheral vision is probably affected which doesn’t help when he’ trying to play defense.  I know he wasn’t great but I’ve seen a lot of guys play with the mask and it usually takes them a game or two to adjust to it.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    C’mon man, I was trying to eat…

  • Anonymous

    I took a few positives from the game last night.  Sure Hulls could have been better and Zeller got shut down, but by and large I thought IU played all right—not great, but not atrocious.  Previous IU teams the last couple of years would have lost that game by 40 or 50 the way Michigan St. played.The biggest thing I saw last night was Christian Watford having what may well have been his best all-around game of his career.  I know it may not have been his career high (but it wasn’t far off it,) but he did everything the way we’ve hoped he’d do it.  He hit big shots, he grabbed huge rebounds, and was fighting against guys who are as strong or stronger than he is.  We’ve seen him in the past get shots swatted away when he was down low and lose rebounds to guys shorter than he, but not last night. 

    For the first time I saw him set a wide base, make room for himself, and go up over a guy.  There was one shot in particular that he didn’t hit, but it was a good move.  He was about 12-14′ from the basket, set himself low, cleared space, and went straight up over the man guarding him (may have been Green, but I don’t remember for certain.)  The previous two years he’d have gotten that shot blocked.

    It took him a couple of games to get it rolling this year—maybe it was adjusting to having another big guy, maybe it was adjusting to other guys stepping up their games and not being the only option, maybe it was the foot injury—but whatever it was, he’s figured it out and he’s playing like a freakin’ man.  I’m thinking the rest of the Big 10 is in trouble if he comes back next season.

  • Aubreyhouse

    not true…

  • Aubreyhouse

    not true…

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    I have to say that I agree with the comment about Zeller stepping out and knocking down a few jumpers.  I watched him play a few times in HS including last year’s championship game and the kid is a good shooter.  He’s attempted one outside shot this year and airballed it and since then, nothing.  If he could step out and hit a couple 15-18 footers then it would stretch the D and open things up for him as well as the rest of the team slashing and cutting to the basket. 

    Not sure what’s going on, but he needs to shoot a couple jumpers!

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    Again, fickle.  How quickly we forget that the team took an 18 pt deficit and turned it into a 9 point lead! 

    Can anyone honestly say that in the past three years that would’ve or could’ve happened? 

    Nope, they would have lost by 30!

  • Anonymous

    If the Hoosiers actually had a big man then Cody could run wild as a 4…  It isn’t fair to bust Cody for not being a physical presence down low.  It isn’t who he is, and he’s not going to be the bruiser that we need to hang with the big dogs in the Big Ten.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t speak for robhoosier but I agree that Zeller played hard and that he’ll continue to improve. And I don’t think he consciously didn’t want the ball. But he can improve in creating situations in which to get the ball and he’s gotta be aggressive going after it.

    I do see OSU, with their combo of bigs, possibly giving Cody problems as well.

  • IUJeff

    Things will be different when we play them @ IU. Sheehey being out was the bigger problem. 

  • IUJeff

    Things will be different when we play them @ IU. Sheehey being out was the bigger problem. 

  • Mister Slippery

    MSU played really well. They’re going to be a tough out. People are saying don’t freak out if we go 0-2 in the B1G and I hear ya, but I fully expect to beat OSU. I would feel a ton better about that if Sheehey was playing. That’s a really really tough loss for us that totally changes the dynamic.

    I think Zeller will be fine. He’s not the only tall guy who doesn’t weigh a zillion pounds.

  • Anonymous

    IU cut the lead with open court offense off MSU misses…nothing else.Understand your point..mine is time for excuses is over..a better team beat us on the road and IU has no effective half court offense yet demonstrated against a solid team. Go back and look at the tape as I’m sure the coaches are doing. How many posessions were wasted in the first 25 second with ineffective ball movement..no screens or anything that resembled an organized offensive. I think IU can beat OSU..but everything has to click and there needs to be some execution of a half court offense. I’m not hating on the Hoosiers..love’em to death..but the talent is there to play much better…against quality opponets on a consistent basis. I picked them to go about 16-15 this year..so I’m happy to this point. Want to see potential realized is all..Creans  half court sets don’t do it for me..and good coaches like Izzo with some talent know how to shut them down..

  • CreanFaithful

    So you discredit their run because it wasn’t done through half-court offensive sets?  When have you seen them do it any differently?

    Not sure what you mean by open court offense.  But if you mean jumping passing lanes on defense for fast breaks and stretching the Spartan defense with quick ball movement combined with hitting shots on offense… then yes.  That has been the success of this team to date.  No surprises and they deserve the credit for  making that game competitive when it looked like we might get run out of the gym by halftime. 
    You will likely never care for CTC’s offensive sets like many other posters dying for motion offense to return to B-town.  Crean only knows what he is doing when we win… (sarcasm)Get over it.  As we close the talent gap and fill holes on our roster, these sets will become more effective (aka better penetration and better post presence).  He’s teaching a system and it won’t go away.  “Good coaches like Izzo” will soon fear playing the likes of the Hoosiers when we match their talent level and I can’t wait!But let’s be realistic.  NOT make excuses – but stay realistic.  For now, we have an overachieving group of Hoosiers that have awakened Hoosier Nation and it feels great!

  • CreanFaithful

    Disagree.  

    Not that Cody couldn’t play well at the 4, but that he isn’t a “big man.” That’s ridiculous.  He will likely be the biggest player on the floor for 90% of our games.  The guy is 7 feet tall! 

    He’ll be working the paint effectively before too long.  I agree with some of the other posters that stepping out and knocking down a few 15 footers would open up more opportunities for himself and his teammates. 

    The kid is a beast.  A freshman.  But still a beast.  Excited to watch him progress.

  • Aceman_Mujezinovic_07

    I understand.  It’s the same thing we’ve all been saying for past three years though.  Hulls is a shooter and Jones is a head down shot first penetrating guard.  Neither fit Crean’s system well.  That’s why I like the fact that he’s put an emphasis on getting out in transition this year.  He did develop a game plan for this team that could work and that’s it.  If we don’t D up or if the other team makes a point to shut that running game down then we fall right back into the same offense we’ve watched the past three seasons.  It is better this year but it still lacks the penetrating guards like Yogi to make it really effective.  It’s personnel still at this point which is why I say that CTC has done a marvelous job getting this team to where they are at.  I think they are overachieving which should be obvious to everyone and a lot of it has to do with CTC putting together a plan for the team which has led to some early unexpected wins. 

    I think we’ll see Saturday that CTC rebounds quickly as do the Hoosiers and I also think that Zeller matches up better against Sullinger than he did against the MSU defenders.  He may not be able to slow Sullinger down but I don’t think Sullinger is as good a defender as Payne and Nix so we’ll have to wait and see. 

    Anyway, I predict another Hoosier upset, followed by a win at home against Mich and one on the road against PSU.  If that happens, two things will happen . . . one, IU will vault well into the top 10 and be looking squarely at a 3-4 seed and, two, IU fans will completely forget this loss to MSU and just chalk it up to a game we should’ve lost, which is was. 

    If IU goes 1-2 during this stretch they are still looking at an 11-7 record at worst if they lose every game they should lose and win every game they should win.  With the 1 non-conference cupcake in the middle of the B1G that makes IU 24-7.  I honestly think IU is the type team to win more games they aren’t supposed to win than the other way around, like the game at home against OSU.  So, I’m predicting more like a  12-6 or 13-5 record which could give IU 25-26 wins and I still think that would be good for a 3-4 seed. 

    How far above everyone’s preseason expectations would that be???

  • Anonymous

    got a buddy whos brother is a manager with the team. this is where i get this info

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    He has to bang em right back and not let them front him with their arms.

  • Anonymous

    great video

  • Bleeding Crimson

    I’m sure his foul situation had some influence on the way he played late in the game.  They were calling everything they could, and Ted Valentine has to get over the Bob Knight thing.  I did not like the way him and Izzo were making love on the side lines.  If was almost like they were keeping us in check.  And that was just what we saw on camera.  You can’t tell me the Zebra’s don’t have favorites or dislikes nor should it reflect in a game but some of those calls was just BS.

  • Bleeding Crimson

    Totally agree.  There is a thing called scouting report, film sessions, etc.  Shut down our three point threat and get Zeller in foul trouble and deny him the pass you shut down IU.  We had not response even with Roth in the game he game us a few good shots and really good timing but it is a 40 min game and MSU did it’s job.  Maybe the better team won that night but we will play again.

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