If No. 1 Indiana realizes its potential and wins the National Championship this spring it will be Victor Oladipo, not Cody Zeller that leads the Hoosiers to the promised land for the first time since 1987.
Yes, before the season Zeller got all the attention, and all the magazine covers, as he should have. But, since the Hoosiers began the regular season, Oladipo has been the most improved player in the country, and one of the most impressive players overall.
Oladipo's improvement across the board has been a marvel to witness, and has made IU more of a threat than the Hoosiers appeared to be before the year when Zeller was the clear best player on the roster.
Last season Oladipo averaged 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game to go along with 47 percent shooting from the field. This season, however, he has launched into himself into the National Player of the Year conversation. The junior from Upper Marlboro, MD., has upped his scoring average to 14 points per game, a blistering 64 percent from the field and a 51 percent average from beyond the 3-point line, after converting just 20.8 percent of his long range attempts a year ago.
The offensive production aside, the aspect of Oladipo's game that might be the most important to the Hoosiers is his defense.
Through 22 games, he has averaged 2.45 steals per game, which is good for 15th in the nation, and first in the Big Ten.
Oladipo will be neck and neck with Ohio State senior point guard Aaron Craft for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He will also be on the short list for Defensive Player of the Year.
Oladipo's defensive prowess turns steals into fastbreak baskets for Indiana, and sends the best home court advantage into a frenzy. In the biggest Indiana home game in quite some time, Oladipo forced Michigan standout sophomore point guard Trey Burke into a tough night offensively, allowing Indiana to take a big lead early as they took down the then-No. 1 Wolverines, 81-73. Two days later, Indiana reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the polls for the first time since December.
Oladipo¹s defining moment this season was in Indiana's 75-70 victory over No. 13 Michigan State at Assembly Hall. Zeller made only two baskets, but clinched the contest with a layup and a drawn charge in the final 98 seconds. Oladipo¹s stat line jumped off the page.
In 30 minutes, the junior guard finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and three blocks. It¹s his complete arsenal offensively and defensively that has seen Oladipo steadily rise on NBA Draft boards this season.
Before the season, Oladipo was considered a late first round pick at best.
With his breakout season, Oladipo could be a lottery pick. He, of course won¹t be the highest draft pick on the Indiana roster. Zeller is all but guaranteed to be a top five pick. The seven-foot sophomore has had a very good season while averaging 16 points and eight rebounds this season.
Zeller is a terrific player, but if the Hoosiers are going to hang their sixth National Championship banner in the rafters of Assembly Hall, Oladipo will lead them there.