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Cody Zeller Should Still Go to the NBA, but if He Had Left Last Year, He Would Have Been a Top 10 Lock

Cody Zeller, to be blunt, was awful Thursday in a humbling Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse. He was 3-of-11 from the field and must have had his shot blocked four or five times in the center of that 2-3 zone that befuddled Tom Crean and the Hoosiers. I think his first basket came 12 minutes into the game.

Whenever Zeller took the ball to the basket, he was swallowed by smaller players who either blocked his shot, forced him into a pass, or made him take an off-balance shot. For those who hadn’t seen much of Zeller, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative: He needs to stay in school for another year or two before taking his game to the NBA.

Uh, why?

What, Zeller’s suddenly going to get tougher by staying in college for another year? He’s not getting any bigger. Maybe he gets stronger, but mean streaks don’t just emerge out of thin air. Another reason not to stay? The team’s best shooter, Jordan Hulls, graduates. Want two more reasons? Wing players, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo, are headed to the NBA (Watford is a senior, Oladipo has established himself as a lottery pick).

Sure, the Hoosiers have some very good recruits coming in, but are a bunch of freshman going to somehow improve Zeller’s game? Nope.

We had this discussion last March, after Indiana was bounced by Kentucky in the Sweet 16 – should he stay or go? Far be it from me to tell a teenager what to do, but at the time, I noted how staying in school didn’t help Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger or Perry Jones, all who had mediocre sophomore seasons (after terrific freshman campaigns), and all of whom fell in the draft.

Zeller would have been wise to come out of school after his fabulous freshman year, when he would have been a Top 10 lock in a weak draft. (I know, I know, college is awesome, Big Man on Campus, all that. Save it for Matt Barkley.) Zeller decided to return, everyone deemed Indiana the preseason No. 1 … and, well, their season’s over.

You know who helped their NBA prospects by staying in school? Trey Burke of Michigan and Mason Plumlee of Duke. Burke could be the National Player of the Year, and is two wins away from the Final 4; Plumlee has played his way into the Top 10 of the draft with an outstanding season. Zeller got lapped by his teammate (Oladipo) his stock undeniably is down. I’d put him in the 10-15 range in the draft, but it wouldn’t shock me if he fell out of the lottery (which could be a good thing, if a contender drafts him).

Look at the other power forwards in the 2013 draft. Take these three, toss in Zeller, and go ask an NBA GM who he is taking:

- Plumlee (crazy athletic, potential to be defensive force)
– Anthony Bennett of UNLV (powerful game, inside and out)
Adreian Payne of Michigan State (who isn’t a lock to come out, but is teeming with talent)

Heck, who are you more intrigued by, Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky (who hasn’t played much but has shown flashes of insane athleticism) and Isaiah Austin of Baylor (very raw, but athletic and has great range for a 7-footer), or Zeller?

Related: Nerlens Noel is Still a Top 5 Draft Pick: a 2013 NBA Mock Draft at the NBA All-Star Break
Related: 2013 NBA Mock Draft – One Year Early! (Just the Lottery)

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