Can Zeller Achieve The Triple Crown?
In baseball and horse racing, the Triple Crown is seen as the ultimate individual honor that is rarely achieved. On the unique occasions that someone reaches this milestone, their name goes down in the history books to be looked upon with reverence forever. Affirmed was the last horse to win the award, 34 years ago. With baseball’s Miguel Cabrera ending a 45-year Triple Crown drought this season, America has been reminded that such an achievement is still possible in this day and age.
This is about the time when you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with basketball. Quite simply, I would like to raise the question: Can Indiana’s Cody Zeller win college basketball’s version of the Triple Crown?
In a single year, by our definition, a player has to win the National College Player of the Year Award, lead his team to the National Championship, and be the No.1 overall pick in the NBA draft. The last player to do this was… Anthony Davis.
Considering a player reached this achievement just last season, it would be easy to assume that College Basketball’s Triple Crown is achieved on a regular basis. In reality Davis joined a fraternity of two: Lew Alcindor (1969) and Danny Manning (1988).
Getting there is harder than you may think. Michael Jordan never achieved more than one of the components in the same year. Magic Johnson won a National Championship and was the first overall selection in the 1979 NBA Draft. However, he lost out on the Player of the Year Award to a certain rival who ended up on the Boston Celtics.
In today's one and done culture, achieving this distinction has become even more challenging as it's extremely rare for a freshman to even be considered for National Player of the Year, much less guide their school to a National Title.
Like Blake Griffin, Zeller is that rare exception that returned to college, most top talents are gone before they ever figure out where the campus cafeteria is. So it's apparent that a perfect storm of factors must come together for this accomplishment to happen.
After a terrific freshman season that saw him average over 15 points and 6 rebounds per game on 62% shooting, Zeller ignored a top 5 projection for the 2012 draft and returned to school. He honored his pledge to play college ball with his AAU teammate and close friend Yogi Ferrell, and more importantly help Coach Tom Crean lift Indiana back to college prominence.
At this stage, Zeller is seen by scouts as the favorite, but by no means a shoe in to go first. His main competition comes in the form of two freshmen phenoms, Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel. Shabazz, who after fighting to gain his eligibility has been solid. He's a dynamic athlete and scorer with great determination but with a limited floor game. Noel on the other hand is limited offensively but some feel has even more potential as a shot blocker than Anthony Davis.
Unlike his closest competitors, Zeller is much closer to being a finished product. This is music to the ears of GMs in a league where the pressure to produce immediately is at a premium. He has a chance to impact games more than any player in the country because of his high offensive skill level as well as size to be dispruptive on the defensive end. He has a polished post game and the ability to knock down mid-range shots consistently, plus highly valued soft hands. His ability to run the floor sets him apart from most 7-footers. He's an underrated athlete, equally adept on the break as in the half court set.
Vegas put Indiana as the early favorite at 7-1 to win the title with Louisville, Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas as their closest competition. Indiana has a team with experience, athleticism and depth and most importantly a bigman with the talent to lead them to a championship.
If Zeller is able to carry the Hoosiers to a National Championship, it will be virtually impossible for the media to ignore Zeller when casting their vote for National Player of the Year.
With the season just getting underway, there are a lot of NCAA games to be played between now and the NBA draft in June. The odds are stacked against Zeller of achieving the rare and monumental feat of the Triple Crown. But should he duplicate Davis and make it back to back years, history suggests it could be a long time before we see it happen again.
Anthony Davis is also the only one of the three mentioned to have won Olympic Gold in the same year.
Not to mention Davis also won Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and NCAA Tournament MOP.
Pretty cool a Miguel Cabrera reference on an NBA site, anyways, good article.
He should be on this list, but UNLV blew it against Duke.