Cody Zeller named Big Ten freshman of the year by coaches; the media fails to do the same.

BLOOMINGTON, IN - MARCH 04: Cody Zeller #40 of the Indiana Hoosiers dunks the ball during the Big Ten Conference game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Assembly Hall on March 4, 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Cody Zeller was voted Big Ten freshman of the year by coaches; reporters, intent on proving Bob Knight's old axiom, gave their freshman of the year award to Trey Burke of Michigan. I provided my thoughts on the matter a week ago, and nothing that has happened in the meantime, not even Michigan State's senior night loss to Ohio State, which allowed Michigan and OSU to pull into a three way tie for the Big Ten title, has changed my mind. Cody Zeller was the obvious pick, and it's not particularly close. Statistically, it's a no-brainer. Further, as ready-to-play as Trey Burke has been, Zeller has transformed IU's team, both with his presence and his production.
I understand that Michigan won a share of the Big Ten title. Congrats, Michigan! First time since 1986. That's great. But there are Big Ten titles and there are Big Ten titles. If Michigan had taken the conference by storm and gone 15-3, then I suppose I could put more stock in the "count the rings, baby!" argument. They didn't. They got slapped around by Purdue on their senior night, took care of a couple of also-rans on the road, and benefitted from Michigan State's first losing streak since November. Again, there's no dishonor in winning the Big Ten that way. When IU grabbed a four-way share in 2002, I was ecstatic, because it had been nine years. But there are a whopping two games separating IU and Michigan in the overall standings. That's not nothing, but it's not enough to overcame the chasm between Burke's objective accomplishments and Zeller's. As I said last week, Burke is having a great season for a freshman, but his numbers would not be eye-popping for a junior. Zeller is having a great season, period.

As for the other awards, Zeller was second team all-Big Ten from both the coaches and the media. Christian Watford was honorable mention in both polls, while Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo where media honorable mention. Victor Oladipo was on the coaches' all defensive team (the media did not select one).

Finally, Tom Izzo won coach of the year. In the SB Nation poll, I voted for Tom Crean, and as with the freshman of the year controversy, I am not unbiased, of course. Before the season, 24-7/11-7, and ranking in the top 15 in every major human poll and computer ranking, would have been an extremely rosy prediction for IU. On the other hand, 24-7/13-5 would have been slightly but not overwhelmingly optimistic for Michigan State. I have to imagine that if, before the season, the voters had been presented with these final records as a hypothetical, giving Crean the award over Izzo would have been a no-brainer. As it was, I think a couple of things were at work. First, Crean was a victim of his own early season success. After starting 15-1, the Hoosiers had a midseason swoon, losing at Nebraska and at home to Minnesota, and dropped a bad one at Iowa a couple of weeks ago. At that point, people acted as if the 15-1 start was somehow expected, and the Hoosiers were now underachieving. Second, I think the Izzo narrative was firmly established a week or two ago, when it looked like MSU would walk away with the outright title by a game or two. That didn't happen, and now, as with the Zeller/Burke discussion, we're talking about a two game separation in the standings, but the "what an amazing job Izzo had done!" narrative remained.

None of this is a big deal. None of it takes away from the amazing comeback season the Hoosiers have produced this year. But I'm struggling with the rationale on these two choices.


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