Zeller, Leonard have changed the game for their teams

  • 02/09/2012 10:45 am in

A year ago, Meyers Leonard rarely saw the floor for Illinois. The big man played only eight minutes per game and averaged 2.1 points and 1.2 rebounds.

Last year, Cody Zeller was helping Washington (Ind.) High School to its second straight state title, Big Ten basketball hardly on his mind.

Both Leonard and Zeller have quickly developed into dynamic college centers that have completely changed the way their respective teams play. The guard play is still there on both teams — Illinois has Brandon Paul, for example — but the men in the middle are now the focus of many opposing team’s game plans.

“It’s different because it’s a different type of breed,” Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said Thursday. “There aren’t a lot of 7-footers who are agile, can run and jump like Cody and Meyers.”

Leonard and Zeller’s games are so similar that if you only read comments from players and coaches, it would be almost impossible to tell which guy they were talking about.

“He’s huge, he’s a big guy. He can hit a little jump hook, he can step out and hit midrange. You just have to be with him all the time, stay attached. He’s really athletic so you can’t let him get any easy lobs.”

That’s Indiana guard Jordan Hulls talking about Leonard, a 7-1 sophomore who has increased his averages to 13.3 points and eight rebounds this season. He’s shooting 58 percent from the field and has scored 20 or more points four times.

Zeller, in comparison, is averaging 15.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest. He is shooting 65 percent from the field, and he also has had four games with 20 or more points.

Despite their similarities and the fact they’ll be matched up against each other when the teams meet tonight at Assembly Hall, Indiana coach Tom Crean shook off a question about Leonard being a defensive challenge for Zeller.

“He’s a challenge for our entire team,” Crean said. “Much the same that I’m sure they’re focused on their team guarding Cody, we’re focused on our team in the sense of Meyers Leonard. It’s not an individual matchup game.”

While they’ve yet to meet in a college game, this won’t be the first time Zeller and Leonard have taken the floor against each other. Leonard remembers playing against Zeller in junior high AAU ball when Zeller was with the Washington Hatchets.

“He was always a guard so I never guarded him or anything, but I always remember him being pretty skilled. He could shoot,” Leonard said. “It’s weird that we’re completely different players now.”

They are completely different players now compared to their junior high days, and they’ve taken the Big Ten by storm. After Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Zeller and Leonard have been the most productive big men in the league.

Indiana has played against both Sullinger and Green, but the Hoosiers have yet to face a guy quite like Leonard — except in practice.

Oladipo was asked when the last time he faced a 7-footer that was as athletic as Leonard.

“Cody Zeller,” Oladipo joked.

“I’m not sure. He’s probably the first.”

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  • Peter

    This is going to be an extremely physical match up for Zeller/Leonard. If you haven’t seen Leonard play, he may be something special. Mentally, he gets very frustrated at times and it shows on the court. I can’t wait to watch this game.

  • Peter

    This is going to be an extremely physical match up for Zeller/Leonard. If you haven’t seen Leonard play, he may be something special. Mentally, he gets very frustrated at times and it shows on the court. I can’t wait to watch this game.

  • MillaRed

    3 time high school state champion?
    Leonard –  NO
    Zeller – YES

    McDonald’s All American?
    Leonard –  NO
    Zeller – YES

    5-Time Big Ten FR of the Week and counting?
    Leonard –  NO
    Zeller – YES

    Oscar Robinson Watch List?
    Leonard –  NO
    Zeller – YES

    Probable Big Ten FR of the Year?
    Leonard –  NO
    Zeller – YES

    Sure, Leonard is a good player. But the other one is Great.

  • JerryCT

    Having watched Leonard several times I get the clear impression he slows down several times in a game. I do not know whether he is naturally a bit slow footed , slow to recognize plays or not enough stamina but he does not maintain the level of hard work CZ does.

    It will be a battle however no matter what

  • dtfreed

    Could be interesting which one gets the calls from the refs. Zeller hasn’t so far, Leonard, I don’t know. With the B1G refs calling touch fouls on some and letting complete muggings going on for others. . . All we can hope for is consistency from refs which haven’t for decades.  

  • dtfreed

    Could be interesting which one gets the calls from the refs. Zeller hasn’t so far, Leonard, I don’t know. With the B1G refs calling touch fouls on some and letting complete muggings going on for others. . . All we can hope for is consistency from refs which haven’t for decades.  

  • Miamihoosier

    Michigan State has done a great job of shutting down the leauge’s best big men, by trying to beat them up in the post. Cody had his worst game of the year against them, and so did Meyers (4 points in 30 min)……… I think if we put Pritchard on Leonard, and take the same physical approach, he is likely to get frustrated.          Minnesota tried to play Leonard one on one with their 7 footer Sampson, and he had his best game of the year 20 points and 11 boards…….Let Tommy P bruise him up, and keep Cody out of foul trouble so he can dominate on the offensive end……JerryCT is right, Meyers Leonard does not have the stamina, and gets tired with big minutes, look for Cody to come up huge in the second half

  • Miamihoosier

    Come on McDonlad’s……………..make yourselves look smart, and make Yogi AND Jeremy Hollowell All-Americans………I will supersize all my value meals for a year as thank you if you do.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Agreed.  I think the perception is that Meyers Leonard plays nearly the entire game which is the reason for his tendency to disappear for brief chunks.  However, Cody averages 28 minutes a game and Leonard averages 30 minutes a game.  So the minutes per game cannot be used as an excuse for why he seems tired at times.

  • Interesting thought.  I always like the idea of trying a few new things each game.  Perhaps you uncover a lineup or match up that was unexpected but really works well.  Of course, the opposite is always possible, but you never know until you give it a shot.

  • Geoff_85

    The first Illinois game I watched this year I thought, “wow, this guy is lazy” and I haven’t really changed my mind since. He’s a lottery pick on most experts’ draft boards. I think he’s done after this year and doesn’t put the effort in that players who want to win do. I think he’s just more focused on getting to the next level. I’m not trying to bash the kid, just what I’m interpreting what I’ve seen from him in the games I’ve watched.

  • HoosierDadE

    Yogi for sure…might only get large sized fries w/ Hollowell.  But hoping for the best.

  • Geoff_85

    Tommy P will be taken out in the first 5 minutes with 2 fouls. I’m not sure if Leonard gets a lot of calls, but Pritchard gets no help from the officials.

  • CreamandCrimson

    You called him lazy.  I think that would qualify as bashing.  I am not necessarily disagreeing with you but when you start a sentence with, “I’m not trying to bash the kid…” you are probably about to bash the kid.

  • IU_Fan_99

    what about the Bus and Hanner??

  • catronhoosier

    This is the biggest matchup of the year for Cody because  Davis from UK is WAY WAY behind Cody offensively.  Tonight will be the night we see Cody’s mental maturity pay off huge (not that it hasn’t before).  Leonard always gets frustrated and upset when he starts to struggle and he basically shuts down defensively and offensively.  I like Leonard and his raw talent, but I love Zeller and he will go down as one of the Hoosier greats.

  • catronhoosier

    This is the biggest matchup of the year for Cody because  Davis from UK is WAY WAY behind Cody offensively.  Tonight will be the night we see Cody’s mental maturity pay off huge (not that it hasn’t before).  Leonard always gets frustrated and upset when he starts to struggle and he basically shuts down defensively and offensively.  I like Leonard and his raw talent, but I love Zeller and he will go down as one of the Hoosier greats.

  • IUfanPurduePhD

    Is that similar to, “I don’t mean to sound racist, but [insert racist remark].”

  • Dan

    Not many Leonard fans speaking up right now. I think Leonard is all the player TZ is and more. The problem is TZ has a coach. Leonard gets nothing from Weber. Weber has wasted so much talent over the years at Illinois. It’s just now people are starting to see it. Last week Leonard was 10 for 12 shooting and Weber said he took a couple bad shots. What the hell kind of comment is that? If Leonard had anyone who could get him the ball inside he would have 20+ each game. Instead he has a bunch of guys who throw up 3’s again and again.
    Knowing Leonard, knowing where he came from and how hard he works I don’t care how the game goes….I”m just a Leonard fan. Don’t bash him because he plays for Weber!

  • Tom S

    To remain site-related, I think it’s similar to

    “I like VJIII, really I do, but ……..”

  • I have noticed in the games I have seen Leonard that he is not nearly as quick as Cody nor does his stamina last as long as Cody’s. He also seems to at times let things get into his head. I have a feeling that even though they seem to be very similar players on paper that Cody is going to take this kid to town tonight. HOO HOO HOO HOOSIERS!!!!

  • Hoosiered

    I noticed several times in the past that dseems to pout when things don’t go his way. If true maybe Assembly Hall can get into his head tonight.

  • Hoosiered

    I noticed several times in the past that dseems to pout when things don’t go his way. If true maybe Assembly Hall can get into his head tonight.

  • IUJeff

    Who are the d-arses liking this comment that says TP will pick up 2 fouls in the first 5 mins? Do I smell Illannoy trolls?

  • IUJeff

    Who are the d-arses liking this comment that says TP will pick up 2 fouls in the first 5 mins? Do I smell Illannoy trolls?

  • IllinoisHoosier93

    TZ? I think you mean CZ. Don’t blame Weber for not developing Leonard as much as he could have been. I grew up very close to Meyers and everything I ever heard about him was negative including his work ethic. He wines almost if not more than Weber and tends to shut down when things aren’t going his way. Don’t get me wrong, Weber is not in my opinion a Big Ten caliber coach. Good recruiter but bad game coach.