BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Tom Crean already has one major victory over North Carolina.
He got Cody Zeller.
Now Roy Williams must figure out how to defend the recruit that got away to avoid losing again Tuesday night when No. 14 North Carolina meets No. 1 Indiana in the marquee matchup of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“He’s the guy that makes everybody else change their defense and you have to be concerned about him,” Williams said. “He gave them a legitimate inside scorer that could foul out the other players. I just think he’s a great player, a great player.”
In Bloomington, Zeller means more than that.
As a freshman, he helped put the Hoosiers back on the national map.
This year, he’s considered the best big man in America, was a near-unanimous preseason All-America selection and is one of the favorites to be national player of the year.
His impact can be measured one way — in wins and losses. Without Zeller, Crean was 28-66 in three seasons. With him, the Hoosiers are 33-9 in a little more than two seasons.
On Tuesday night, he will be the center of attention again, though Crean has other concerns.
“They bring some things that we’ve not seen, and I’m not sure that we’ve ever seen here,” Crean said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a fast break like there’s here at Assembly Hall, and James McAdoo is as good a rebounder on the offensive end as anyone we’ve seen this year or any other year.”
The game pits two of college basketball’s truest blood-blood programs against one another. The schools have combined for 10 national championships and 3,766 all-time wins — the most prominent being Indiana’s victory in the 1981 national championship game.
But some of the biggest battles have come off the court.