Cody Zeller is arguably the Big Ten’s best newcomer. His prowess turned a struggling Hoosiers program into a Top-10 team.
NBA minds place Zeller among the Top-15 in next summer’s draft. Plus, the 6-11 forward could crack the Big Ten’s first team. And Tuesday, he earned a spot on the Wooden Award’s midseason list.
But I’m not convinced that he’s the top freshman in the league.
Michigan’s Trey Burke continues to produce in big games (see Tuesday night’s 20-point effort in Michigan’s 60-59 victory over the Spartans). He’s filled the apparent void that was created when Darius Morris left school for the NBA and helped the Wolverines become a better team.
Let’s compare the two players.
Zeller (14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Burke (14.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.8 apg)
Big Ten numbers (through seven games for Burke, six for Zeller)
Zeller (14.2 ppg-12th, 4.8 rpg-20th, 63.5 field goal percentage-second)
Burke (17.4 ppg-fifth, 4.6 apg-fourth, 78.9 percent from free throw line-12th, behind Zeller’s 79.2 percent clip)
Effective field goal percentage (Per Ken Pomeroy)
Zeller (65.3 percent)
Burke (51.6 percent)
Efficiency rankings (ESPN.com’s John Hollinger)
Zeller (30.49 PER, second in the Big Ten)
Burke (19.72 PER, 27th in the Big Ten)
Performances against ranked opponents
No. 1 Kentucky (12/10): 11 points (4-for-8), seven rebounds, one block, three turnovers, 3-for-3 from FT line
At No. 17 Michigan State (12/28): 4 points (2-for-5), three rebounds, one steal, one turnover
No. 2 Ohio State (12/31): 14 points (5-for-9), four rebounds, 4-for-7 from the charity stripe
No. 13 Michigan (1/5): 18 points (8-for-10), four rebounds, two assists
At No. 5 Ohio State (1/15): 16 points, six rebounds, 7-for-9 from FT line
No. 8 Memphis (11/21, neutral site): 14 points (6-for-10), two rebounds, four assists, three TOs
No. 6 Duke (11/22, neutral site): 17 points (8-for-17), three rebounds, nine assists, three TOs
At No. 12 Indiana (1/5): 10 points (4-for-15), seven rebounds, eight assists, four TOs
No. 19 Wisconsin (1/8): 14 points (6-for-15), three rebounds, two assists
No. 9 Michigan State (1/17): 20 points (8-for-11), 3-for-6 from 3pt line, four rebounds, three assists
Zeller is certainly the more efficient of the two. But Burke has been a gem in crucial games for an undersized Wolverines squad.
Despite Zeller’s early prominence, don’t forget about the freshman in Ann Arbor. He’s making his case for both all-conference and freshman of the year honors in the Big Ten.